Healing the physical and emotional wounds of sexual violence
After more than a decade of conflict in which rape has been used as a weapon, sexual violence is sadly a fact of life for both women and men in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Congolese men and women are working courageously to eradicate this scourge. Here are some of their stories.
Faida became pregnant when she was raped at the age of 14. Her mother rejected her, and she had to drop out of school for more than a year.
Faida overcame her trauma and reconnected with her mother thanks to the mediation of Espérance.
In coping with her ordeal, Faida was able to count on the support of Espérance, a counsellor in charge of supporting victims of rape, who was assigned to the Bunia hospital in Ituri province. “Espérance has helped me understand that no matter what happens, life goes on,” says Faida.
Each day, Espérance attends to two to three new victims, and is responsible for the regular monitoring of five to six people. “It is important to consider social and environmental factors. For example, family rejection is extremely traumatic for girls and women who have been raped. In fact, it can take years of therapeutic follow-up to survive rape,” she explains.
Espérance works with Dr. Bassara, Director of the Bunia hospital. “Such partnership enables a better integration of our services within the hospital. In my opinion, this is the best option for psycho-social monitoring because all aspects of treatment take place discreetly within the hospital and, consequently, the victims are not stigmatized.”
Dr. Bassara also plays a vital role in the lives of patients. “When the victims come to see me for the first time, some do not open up right away. However, drawing on my instincts as a physician, and the training I have received in the treatment of victims of sexual violence, I am able to find the right words and approaches to make them feel comfortable and trust me enough to tell me about their concerns. Of course, this requires patience and the willingness to listen. “
“Since 2014, we have provided medical care for 596 victims and counselling for 351 others. This is evidence that people recognize the value of the services offered by the hospital.”- Dr. Bassara
At the same time, Bunia’s special unit for sexual violence response refers victims immediately to medical services that are quick and free of charge. This unit is responsible for the centralized management of all related records in the province, and receives more than 10 rape complaint files each day. The average age of the victims is 15 years old…
Many cases occur in isolated territories, mining areas and regions hard hit by rebel groups, and where the conflicts of past years have impacted mindsets, perpetuating a climate of impunity.
“Reversing the trend calls for a great effort to raise awareness. We organize workshops, seminars, and radio programmes to keep citizens informed. And what is our biggest challenge? Educating families and the general public because many people ignore the law.” — Yava Muteb.
Eugénie is a facilitator for a victims’ support association in Komanda, a three-hour drive from Bunia. She coordinates the creation and support of income-generating associations for the victims.
As a community leader, she also serves as a counsellor for victims of rape and accompanies them to the hospital: “They trust me, and even come to see me in my home when they are not feeling well. I try to help them at all levels, be it psychological, economic or legal.”
“In our project of income-generating associations, women have been able to achieve great goals. A positive change in people’s lives can always be made, even after they have experienced the worst kind of abuse. Out of 44 project participants, 35 are still pursuing their business enterprises successfully. A change has even taken place in their households: acceptance by husbands and the larger community of women who have been raped.”
The testimonies above are those of grass-roots participants in the “Tupinge Ubakaji” programme funded by Canada in the amount of US$18 million. The programme is implemented jointly by UNDP, UNFPA, UNESCO and UNJHRO. In 2016, out of a total of 5,795 victims provided with medical or psycho-social care, 1,755 cases were brought to court, out of which 783 judgements were handed down (79.6 percent convictions and 20.4 percent acquittals).
In terms of reintegration, 1,729 adult beneficiaries (1,560 women and 169 men) and 665 minors (635 girls and 30 boys) have restarted socio-economic and educational activities.
In addition, 5,797 survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, 5,695 women and 102 men, have had access to medical and psycho-social care.
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