Three Things to Know About Rape in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

One rape every minute?! Unbelievable. And that might be underestimating how bad the situation is…

Several weeks ago, the New York Times published a shocking article on the massive prevalence of rape and sexually-based violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).  The article cites a new study in the American Journal of Public Health that describes the astounding number of rapes that occur throughout the DRC and speculates that thousands upon thousands cases of rape go unreported every year. Senior UN officials are calling the DRC the “rape capital of the world.”

How does a country that had so much promise at one point, endowed with more valuable minerals the rest of Africa combined, end up as the rape capital of the world? Yes, there has been terrible fighting in the country for year and years. Many people even argue that the conflict in DRC has been the most deadly war since World War II. But there have been other wars and conflicts where rape does not become this widespread in such a sustained manner. Other people will even argue that the DRC has a rape culture — meaning that rape has become so common place that it is now an accepted part of life.

In our opinion, this is only half the story. There’s a larger context to consider;

1) In the areas where the country’s natural resources lie, there is ongoing insecurity despite the fact that the DRC is host to the UN’s largest peacekeeping operation in the world;

2) Very few rapists in the DRC are prosecuted, which sends a message that rape is an accepted, normative behavior;

3) It is well-reported that rape has been and continues to be used by soldiers (government forces and foreign militias) as a weapon of war, i.e. a means to gain power, and perhaps more importantly to its perpetrators, to control of the minerals under the DRC’s soil.

Armed perpetrators used this last tactic as a psychological method of humiliating and breaking down families in areas where the government is already weak. They also control economic resources, lucrative mines and transport routes. Using rape as a weapon of war has no precedent in Congolese culture. Much to the contrary, the culture (though patriarchal in structure), respects women and prioritizes women’s roles in birthing children and nurturing families.

So, before we rush to hasty conclusions and peg the DRC as a country whose culture views women as sexual objects, it’s important to reflect on the compounding effect of the three leading factors described above.

In spite of this desperate situation, a large number of women, girls and men have stood up and taken matters into their own hands. These groups (some are funded by AJWS — but because of the group’s security concerns, we do not publicize specifics about their work) are providing firsthand emergency support to numerous victims of torture, trafficking and sexual violence. They are organizing their community members to come forward and denounce perpetrators, regardless of their relationships with the victims. When all else fails, as you might expect, they call upon the international community — and that is where you can help.

The Enough Project to End Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity is leading an effort to begin implementing a certification system for minerals coming from DRC that will let consumers know that their earrings, necklaces, or parts of their cell phones, TVs, or computers (all things that use minerals from the DRC) have not contributed to rape and conflict in the country.  Certification of minerals has worked in the past with diamonds (the Kimberly Process ensured that consumers did not buy “blood diamonds”) and it could have a huge effect in DRC if it is implemented promptly.

Please write Secretary of State Clinton a letter in support of the certification campaign and in solidarity with the countless victims of rape, sexual violence and torture in the DRC.

This post was originally published by the American Jewish World Service.

Take Action: Tell the UN to prevent rape in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


Related Stories:

DR Congo Rape Survivors Speak Out

Democratic Republic of the Congo Colonel Jailed for Mass Rape

Male Rape Victims In The Congo Speak Out


Photo from CabreraLetelier via flickr
Written by Rosalie Nezien and Jaron Vogelsang, bloggers for the American Jewish World Service


alicia m.
alicia m7 years ago

please sign


KrassiAWAY B.
Krasimira B7 years ago

Noted and signed with sadness.

Damien Wilson
Damien Wilson7 years ago


Lyllyan Blare
Lyllyan Blare7 years ago

I believe this example of human atrocity is a huge reason why we should be fully aware of where our resources come from and exactly what we are unknowingly supporting and condoning as consumers.

Past Member
Past Member 7 years ago

I can't believe that this raping of defenseless women young and old can still take place in our world today. I have seen a series on this and the men are so ignorant they are told it makes them better warriors in battle. There must be more protection for these women put into place by the United Nations and we must rally for this.

Brenda Towers
Brenda Towers7 years ago

We should cease trading with them until they make the necessary changes to their laws.

Hugh W.
.7 years ago

Why aren't the Belgians doing more as they completely screwed up the country as colonial conquerors?

We really need a reporting process to know where our minerals come from. I am sure our cellphone companies will lobby against it as they are making too much money off the misery of others. Isn't that the American corporate capitalist way?

Sara Lima
Sara L7 years ago

is sad is serious and everyone should be informed to fight this

Vera Y.
Vera Yuno7 years ago

rape in Congo is a weapon, it is a war strategy, it is horrible. There is a very interesting documentary for the ones who want more and accurate info about this: The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo
Hard to watch, but necessary

Lilithe Magdalene

This is where we need to keep getting educated on where our resources come from and where they go, so that we cut the loop that supports these atrocities.