The last several weeks of media attention to eastern Congo came as a bit of a surprise. After twenty years of documented use of rape as a weapon of war in these parts – unfortunately in many other places as well – I never anticipated the attention that would come from our recent response in Walikale.
When I first learned of it, there were twenty-two cases of rape that had confirmed by our response team. There were also another 4,000 people hiding in fear in the forest. While not atypical of Congo, I still felt that the experience of these women needed to be shared with the wider world to remind people – and inform them in the first place – that rape is still an every day event in Congo. It isn’t something that is just going away.
We began drafting up a story, and by the time it was ready to post on our website, the numbers had tragically risen. They continued to rise, as women returned from the forest and sought care at the health centers we support.
The mind boggling figure now stands at 242 women.
To imagine so many women, most of whom reported to have been gang raped by 2-6 assailants in the presence of their husbands and children, is heart breaking. Ranging in age from 16 to 75, these women – who already live in fear of such attacks – have experienced the worst.
While attacks like this have gone on for years, most of the time it doesn’t even make the news, none-the-less cause such a media frenzy as it has.
After the news finally broke, the United Nations began to catch flack for it happening within a short distance of their base. When Ban Ki Moon started talking about the issue I was amazed at the reach that telling one story can have. Now action must back up talk.
I can’t name all of the media sources that have contacted me for this story. I was live on South African radio yesterday, my friend spotted me in the Turkish newspaper, another in Cleveland, and another in Minnesota. I was contacted by the British, French, German, Spanish, Dutch, American, etc.
I’m a big NPR listener. So while I was on BBC radio, BBC news Channel, and Sky News, I knew I had hit the big time when As it Happens, Canadian Broadcast Company, approached me for an interview that aired on August 26th. Yesterday I followed up with an interview on All Things Considered with Melissa Block.
It was good to have a familiar voice as the interview took an entire hour of dropped skype calls. I thought, now she knows what my poor husband and family feel like! Thank goodness for edits!
Rape anywhere is not an easy subject to talk about, but certainly not on the scale we see here. I remember learning about the issue back in early 2004 from a Congolese friend in DC. I was appalled that the world wasn’t up in arms about such horrific rapes occurring; and that I hadn’t heard of the details earlier. Now I’m glad to have the opportunity to learn first hand and share with friends, family, and the rest of the world.