Today in Rape Culture

[Trigger warning for sexual violence on a mass scale.]

One of the most heinous expressions of a rape culture is the use of rape as a weapon of war—and, as has been previously discussed here, the prevalence and intensity of ongoing, endemic sexual violence against women in Congo has been described as the worst in the world. Hundreds of thousands of women have reportedly been raped in Congo, with sexual violence so widespread that Doctors Without Borders has said "that 75% of all the rape cases it deals with worldwide are in eastern Congo."

This morning, the AP reports that as many as 200 women, and possibly more, were gang-raped by rebels near a United Nations peacekeepers' base in Congo over the course of four days. International aid workers report that Rwandan Hutu FDLR insurgents and Mai Mai militia took over Luvungi on July 30, and occupied the town until August 3, at which point the rebels withdrew voluntarily. A spokesperson for the International Medical Corps says their organization has already treated 179 women.

In Reuters' story on the attack, the spokesperson for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is quoted as saying the rebels "raped several women," only to follow that with: "International Medical Corps (IMC) reported that FDLR systematically raped the population during its four-day stay in Luvungi and surrounding areas. A total of 179 cases of sexual violence were reported."

I'm not sure anything more pointedly, and painfully, underlines the scope of what's happening in Congo than a UN worker calling 179 women "several women." Lest one misunderstand that as callousness on the part of the UN, by way of perspective:
Accurate figures for sexual violence are hard to come by as many rapes are unreported but the United Nations said at least 5,400 women reported being raped in neighbouring South Kivu in the first nine months of 2009 alone.
Unfortunately, the UN is currently withdrawing peacekeeping troops from Congo, at the request of the Congo government.
Margot Wallstrom, the U.N. special representative on sexual violence in conflict, said in April the withdrawal of U.N. peacekeepers from the country would make the struggle against endemic rape "a lot more difficult".
I quite honestly don't know what I can say that I haven't already said before, in a hundred different ways, about the catastrophic devastation to survivors, and to entire nations, when rape is used as a weapon of war, forever changing entire populations of women and girls. Nothing makes me feel more helpless than this.

If you want to help, donate to International Medical Corps here. Donate to International Rescue Committee here. Both groups are working to end sexual violence in Congo and provide much-needed aftercare to survivors of sexual violence, too.

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