400,000-plus women raped in Congo yearly: study

KINSHASA Wed May 11, 2011 4:16pm EDT

KINSHASA (Reuters) - More than 400,000 women are raped in the Democratic Republic of Congo every year, according to a study by U.S. researchers published Wednesday, but the United Nations has expressed doubt over the findings.

Congo, which has a population of around 60 million, has endured decades of conflict, characterized by the use of brutal sexual violence against civilians, with mass rapes still regular in the largely lawless eastern provinces.

The study, which used nationwide data collected by the government between 2006 and 2007, found that on average 1,100 women were raped every day in the vast central African country.

Around 60 percent of victims were forced to have sex by their husbands or partners, it said.

"Rates across the country are high, nowhere is a woman in the Congo safe from sexual violence," Tia Palermo, one of the authors of the study published in The American Journal of Public Health, told Reuters.

She said they were particularly surprised by the high levels of rape in areas not directly affected by fighting.

The study used information from 3,400 women and then used the figure to calculate the national statistics, Palermo said. She said the figures were the most accurate yet published but were still likely to be a conservative estimate.

However, the validity of the research has been questioned by Beatrix Attinger Colijn, the head of the U.N. team tackling sexual violence in the country, who said the sample group was too small and that the research did not reflect local and cultural factors that could affect rates of sexual violence.

"This seems a limited type of study, we try to get away from numbers and give a more analytical context of why sexual violence happens," she said, adding that statistics from five years ago are not relevant to the current situation.

Attinger Colijn said that emphasizing the issue of sexual violence was a distraction from the wider problems of insecurity and violence that still beset the country, with donors channeling vast sums of money into projects focused on rape.

"We don't need figures like this to know sexual violence is a problem, there are many other types of violence and human rights issues that need to be tackled," she added.

SOURCE: bit.ly/bS37FG American Journal of Public Health, June 2011.

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Comments (3)
GlobalGramma wrote:
I am choking on rage at Beatrix Attinger Colijn’s callous and dismissive response to this landmark research.

As head of the U.N. team tracking sexual violence in DR Congo, it is literally HER JOB to get a handle on the true frequency of the rapes Congolese women face! Sorry, Beatrix, there is no way around it: that means numbers.

That Colijn conceives of ANY capacity to do her job while dismissing the number (and importance) of the rapes that have occurred is mind-boggeling. It also offers prima facie evidence of her utter lack of suitability for her position.

My daughter has inerviewed hundreds, if not thousands, of rape victims in Congo. She visited villages where 50% of the women had been raped in just the prior 6 months! (Four years later, one can only imagine how many of them have been re-raped, and re-raped again.) Those women face a Sophie’s choice every day: work their fields and be raped, or let their children starve.) Villages where 90% of the women have been raped are anything but rare or isolated. (They have been reported in the international media for years.) The 16000 rapes per year that the UN reported have always been obviously, grossly, misleadingly understated and inaccurate.

We are wasting our time and attention (and will be led astray) by focusing on the number of Congolese women who have been raped??? Rape in Congo is insignificant??? It is a distraction??? It competes for donor dollars??? What indefensible, despicable drivel!

Precisely how does one marshal an adequate response to any major crisis without grasping its true scope?

If DR Congo teaches us anything, it is that the violence can and will and does get worse when a crisis is ignored. These rape stats are a huge, flashing red light, a clear signal of what lies ahead for every Congolese women if we fail to reckon with their horrifying significance and the claim they make on us for action.

Fire this woman. And do it now. Then dig in and get to work. Stand with those who say NO MORE and insist that our governments come up with comprehensive, coordinated international strategies to stem this ignominious tide of rape AND other violence in Congo.

May 11, 2011 12:13am EDT  --  Report as abuse
gadi wrote:
Even if one woman ……only one woman was raped by the animalist creatins who run around the congo… that would be one woman too many… The UN is so out of touch with reality in this and many other things that no credence should be given to any of their comments…

Abolish the UN and get over it and save our money

May 12, 2011 12:42pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
GlobalGramma wrote:
By the way, Reuters, you have seriously misrepresented the actual percentage of domestic sexual violence contained in the report. It is 22.5%, NOT 60%. You need to fact check that and adhere to journalistic standards by printing a retraction immediately!!! The disservice you are rendering to the public dialog on this critical issue by failing correct this misinformation in incalculable.

May 14, 2011 6:11pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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