The United Nations envoy leading the world’s body efforts to eliminate sexual violence during conflict has welcomed the release of a new study on sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) that indicates the prevalence of the crime is much worse than previously reported. The study, published yesterday in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH), estimates that almost two million Congolese women have been raped and that women and girls are victimized at a rate of nearly one per minute.
Margot Wallström, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, last night issued a statement describing the study as “a commendable effort that helps to fill the gap in empirical research in this area.”
Ms. Wallström is tasked with tackling sexual violence committed during conflicts or in post-conflict situations while the AJPH study examined a broader field that included acts of domestic violence.
“This inevitably makes the AJPH figures higher,” she said, noting that official UN figures tend to be conservative because the Organization can only report to the Security Council on sexual violence that it has been able to verify.
“The UN cannot extrapolate from a small sample the incidence of sexual violence throughout the DRC. Additionally, the UN has ethical obligations that are not generally incumbent upon academic researchers – namely to avoid interviewing survivors or exposing them to any risk of reprisal/re-traumatization in the absence of the ability to deliver services or follow-up on the case.”
But the envoy stressed that “studies like this are important, and valuable in shedding light on risk factors, such as age, or region of residence, which moves the analysis beyond isolated incident reports to convey a sense of patterns.”
Ms. Wallström underscored that conflict-related sexual violence remains one of the biggest obstacles to peace in the DRC.
“Although a lot of work remains to be done, achievements include the adoption of UN Security Council resolution 1960 last December, which gives us the instruments needed to ensure that mass rape is never again met with mass impunity.”