#16Days: Susan is Regaining her Childhood Through Hope

Illustration by Jason Drakeford

Susan was only 11 years old when her childhood was robbed by sexual violence.

A farm worker who was helping her father in the fields attacked her one night while she slept. After the attack, the community’s reaction made the experience even worse. Girls made fun of Susan when she went to the river to collect water. Villagers told her she was now the wife of a rapist. Her parents also felt the shame of what had happened whenever they left the house.

After she was a victim of sexual assault, Susan faced stigma and isolation in her village in the Democratic Republic of Congo. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, years of war have led to a culture of sexual violence that has been described as the worst in the world.

More than one in four Congolese women have experienced gender-based violence. A crushing stigma follows rape victims, who have few resources to bring their attackers to justice.

Worried her daughter would never recover, Susan’s mother sought help from counselors through a USAID program at the local community resource center. Pheomena, Susan’s counselor, explained the kind of support Susan would need to heal. “When a person is a victim of this kind of violence, her body may be affected, but so is her whole heart. Her whole heart is affected.”

Counselors at the center listen to victims, assess their needs and develop action plans. “We helped Susan regain her dignity and stopped the other girls from mocking her,” she explains. “We had conversations with her friends at school, and we met with her teacher. We helped to remove her fear, loss of self-esteem and her loneliness.”

At the center, Susan and her mother also learned to weave and sell baskets. They now treat it as the family business, using the extra income to send Susan to school. “I love making baskets when I get home from school,” Susan says.

Woven baskets like the ones Susan and her mother learned to weave are a traditional Congolese handicraft. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

Through the work of the American Bar Association, which provides legal assistance to affected families in eastern DRC as part of the USAID program, the farm worker that raped Susan was turned over to the local justice department and eventually locked up.

Now that Susan is on the road to recovery, her father would like to see her grow and succeed. “My desire,” he says, “is to see my daughter go to school, reach university, and have a job that will sustain her life.”

USAID supports more than 100 health facilities that provide victims like Susan with medical support, counseling, economic assistance and legal services.

Learn More: https://www.usaid.gov/16-days

Watch Susan’s full story: https://stories.usaid.gov/an-unspeakable-act-a-heroic-survivor/#page-2

This post is part of USAID’s 16 Days storytelling series. Please check back tomorrow for the next installment.

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