While most of my posts are love and relationship driven, there are times when I come across a news article or some other current events issue that forces me to pay attention and speak up.
I recently came across an article in The New York Times that highlighted a present day epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo that literally had me sick to my stomach. So much so that I felt a compelling need to share it with you all.
The NYT reported that last month nearly 200 women were gang-raped by a mob of Rwandan rebels during a weekend raid on a community of villages in eastern Congo.
The eastern Congo is known as the “rape capital of the world” where savage mobs use sexual violence to subdue the population and vie for control of the “conflict minerals” used to make cell phones and laptops around the world (think about these women every time you’re on your PC or cell phone).
Between 200 and 400 armed men began looting and raping women in the village of Ruvungi, which lies near a key mining center, in front of their families and in their homes. Most women were dragged in the forest and raped by two to six men at a time, later emerging from the forest naked. Men, as well as girls as young as 4 years old, have been the victims of rape in eastern Congo.
The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or F.D.L.R., was blamed for the attack. The F.D.L.R. is an ethnic Hutu rebel group that has been terrorizing the hills of eastern Congo for years, preying on villages in a quest for the natural resources beneath them. This is the same group that was responsible for the 1994 genocide in this region.
If you saw the movie Hotel Rwanda starring Don Cheadle, then you are familiar with the atrocities that these monsters are capable of performing. The movie brought to the forefront the violence that plagued the country and forced the world to address an issue that many tried to ignore.
An estimated 800,000 people were killed over the course of approximately 100 days. While the movie forced the world to pay attention to crimes against humanity, it did nothing to deter or prevent further violence. There is still a specific demographic that continue to fall victim to their abuse.
Women in this region are still viewed as second class citizens who have no rights and only exist to satisfy the sexual needs of a man.
In an article written by Anne Mawathe, Haunted by the Rape Dilemma in the Congo, she explains how a former government soldier who is serving 20 years in Goma Central Prison says he attacked the first woman he came across after sneaking away from his post:
“I asked her to help me. I had this urge to have sex. She didn’t want to have sex with me. But I forced her. I felt that if I didn’t have sex then I would get sick.”
“She left without crying but as she was leaving she said she would denounce me. I regret it now because I am in prison.”
This soldier is among the few to have been arrested because not many men ever serve prison sentences for these types of crimes. Many soldiers view women as men’s helpers. There is this attitude that it is a man’s right to have sex and there’s no way that a man cannot have sex.
Many of the attitudes, beliefs and mistaken ideas about rape have been with us for centuries. Most men believe that, “women ask for it,” and “women secretly enjoy rape,”
The women who are raped are victimized again after being attacked because of the enormous cultural taboos involving sexual violence in the Congo.
“They’re excommunicated from their villages and their families,” Francisca Vigaud-Walsh of Catholic Relief Services, who is an expert in sexual violence in Congo, told AOL News. “They lose their entire support structure.”
Clementine, a Congolese mother of eight, details her experience in Anne Mawathe’s article.
”The rebel leader asked me two things: ‘Do you want us to be your husbands? Or do you want us to rape you?'”
“I chose to be raped.”
She explains: “I told myself, if I tell them that I want to be their wife, they will kill my husband. I didn’t want my children growing up saying the one that made our father die is our mother.”
But that sacrifice was not enough. Her husband left her for another woman.
“After they raped me, my husband hated me. He said I was dirty. I often ask myself: ‘Surely, I gave up my dignity for him, how come he can abandon me this way?’”
Jocelyn Kelly, a researcher with the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative’s Gender-Based Violence program, says the men that have survived these attacks on their families are extremely traumatized themselves:
“They say: ‘I can no longer look at my wife.’ And every time they see this woman, they see someone they were not able to protect. They feel like failures and the only way they can deal with it is to reject their wife and start over.”
Women in the Congo have borne the brunt of the violence and women like Yvonne, 37, who has also been raped, will never escape the past. She tells Ms. Mawathe that her husband was forced to watch while she was raped, repeatedly. As a result, her husband wants nothing to do with her.
Yvonne explains: “I am living with my husband in the same house but we are separated. He spends nights on his bed and I spend nights on my bed with the children.
“We cannot do the act of love. When I need him, I tell him, but he says ‘No. Never.’ ‘He tells me to go back to my husbands, the Interahamwe, every time we argue.”
She says she begs her husband to understand her situation but he refuses to.
Only other women understand her.
Clementine speaks for them all when she says:
“I cannot forgive these rapists because they destroyed my life. Sometimes I feel like I don’t have a desire to live on this Earth.”
This is a sad and heart wrenching story. It is unfathomable how these women are abused. Not only by their rapists but then again by their husbands as if they asked to be raped.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited eastern Congo in 2009 to raise awareness about widespread rape in the region, calling it “evil in its basest form,” and the United States pledged $17 million to the Congolese government to fight sexual violence. However, it is going to take much more than that to put a stop to this epidemic.
I wrote about this because most of us in our every day lives take our freedom, health and well being for granted. When you think you have problems, just think about these women and be thankful that you are not them. Someone always has it worse than you do.
What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear.