Violence Against Women in the D.R. Congo: The Most Horrible Thing You Will Read Today -- And, Unfortunately, Perhaps The Last You'll Hear Of It For Weeks

Here's a bit from the latest report on the Democratic Republic of the Congo from the International Rescue Committee:

"It was not uncommon to hear accounts of armed groups seizing young women from farms or water points and enslaving them and raping them for one to three months," says [IRC D. R. Congo Gender Based Violence team coordinator Sarah] Mosely. "Now women in North Kivu talk to me more about gunmen breaking into their homes and brutally raping them in front of their families."

She says the attacks have become so frequent that families in the north cross into Uganda at night to sleep in the forest. It's safer than staying at home.

As to what happens in some of these attacks, the Sydney Morning Herald has more (and look away now if you're squeamish):

Attackers are now identifiable by their manner of attack: one group, after raping the woman or girl, inserts the barrel of a gun...

[Sickening next section edited, simply because I personally can't stand to reprint it.]

... A large percentage of the attackers are HIV-positive and knowingly try to infect their victims.

These aren't just random acts of grotesque inhumanity; it is the systematic sexual and social destruction of whole populations in eastern Congo. And little, it seems, is being done to stop it.

The eastern D. R. Congo borders on Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi, and the current horrorshow is a direct descendant of the 1994 Rwandan genocide and the 1998-2003 Second Congo War (aka the African World War) which followed it.

This Second Congo War, which at its height involved about two dozen factions from eight different countries, is almost certainly humankind's deadliest conflict worldwide since the end of World War II, with a death toll estimated by the International Rescue Committee at 3.8 million people as of April 2004.

Since the aftermath was recently estimated to claim more than 1000 additional lives every single day (think malaria, malnutrition, dysentery, ongoing scattered violence, etc.), and more than 1300 days have passed since the original estimate, it's likely that more than five million Africans have died in less than ten years.

And yet, if you've barely heard of the Second Congo War, you're not alone. There's sparse mention in most U.S. newspaper archives. According to its online archive, the Washington Post, whose coverage seems to have been much better than most, has noted the entire war and its horrifying aftermath an average of about once every two months since 1998, even including small passing mentions in the "World In Brief" on page A12 and the like.

Why? Leaving aside the possibility of subconscious racism, there are a dozen plausible reasons -- the sheer complexity of the conflict; the lack of any large U.S. domestic constituency to push the issue; likewise, no overt U.S. agenda with major numbers of troops on the ground; the physical remoteness of the location; a dearth of in-country media resources; etc.

In any case, many Westerners have heard next to nothing about the violence in the D. R. Congo, despite the fact that its aftermath is still deadlier on a daily basis than all other current wars on earth combined. (Hard to believe, but the math seems unavoidable.) Me, too, until recently; I only learned anything because I went looking, and that was only because I was getting paid last year to write a book summarizing the world's major wars.

If you'd asked me a year ago to name the most deadly conflict of our lifetimes, I might have guessed Vietnam. Most Americans I've asked out of curiosity have guessed the same. But the Second Congo War surpassed its death toll in about half the time. Ask what overseas conflict might merit more media coverage, and many Westerners may respond with Darfur. But the IRC estimated last year that Darfur's sparse coverage is still five times more than the D.R. Congo gets.

Ask where violence against women has reached crisis proportions, and you get all sorts of answers, ranging from Taliban-controlled areas to the unsolved murders in Juarez to people bringing up Natalee Holloway or whatever else they saw on CNN the night before.

But as you read this, more than 27,000 sexual assaults were reported last year in just one Congolese province.

According to the IRC's local coordinator, whole families are night-communting to Uganda and sleeping in the woods just so their daughters won't be gang-raped for months on end.

Wonder when Nancy Grace will get around to those women.

PS -- I can't just post this without mentioning something we can do ourselves. If you'd like to reach across the planet and help, you can start by contacting the International Rescue Committee and/or Doctors Without Borders, both of whom are nongovernmental, nonprofit, and actively working in country.

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