Do We Have the Congo Rape Crisis All Wrong?

Copyright The Atlantic

The international media lit up last week with news of a new study on rape in the Congo published in the American Journal of Public Health. The primary takeaway, that 48 women are raped every hour in Congo, was followed by larger questions: why is this happening, and can anything be done to stop it? But the story on the ground may be far different than how it appears in studies and in the media.

Reaction to the story was swift. Analyst Jason Stearns noted that this study is consistent with earlier reports and, while horrifying, not particularly surprising. Journalist Jina Moore pointed out that, since the data on which the study is based is about five years old, it may not accurately represent current reality. Foreign Policy’s Elizabeth Dickinson asked a troubling question: “What if rape has actually become systemic — not a brutal act of conquest so much as a systemic, even rational occurrence in a system that has been built upon violence?” Charli Carpenter pointed out the problem with focusing only on women as victims and noted the need for more studies of the rapists themselves.

Activist Eve Ensler responded to the report with an angry editorial, in which she argues that the time for studying rape in the DRC is over. We already know that the Congo has a rape crisis, she wrote, and should focus instead on ending the violence once and for all.

The desire for action is understandable, but these studies are important for understanding the causes, and thus solutions, of the problems. A growing body of literature suggests that the prevailing journalistic and activist accounts of the nature of rape in the Congo are often incomplete, and, in many cases, simply wrong. While no one disputes that armed men engage in rape against civilian populations, the story of who is raping whom turns out to be significantly more complicated than the popular narrative suggests.

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One thought on “Do We Have the Congo Rape Crisis All Wrong?”

  1. Congo

    If only America the great protector could be so bold,
    Ah! But, there’s no diamonds, no oil, aka black gold,
    So why are we still in Afghanistan? How come Iraq?
    Is not being gang raped 10 at a time a serious attack?

    And yet it would be hard to help those away from home,
    While in military academies we cannot protect our own,
    The case for innocence, Jamie Leigh Jones & all the rest,
    In uniform, LaVena Johnson, Amy Tirador, Morganne McBeth.

    Brutal mass rapes in D.R. Congo occur on a daily basis,
    We shudder to think of tears mixed in with bloody faces,
    Surely after you have been repeatedly beaten by throngs,
    It’s death or you accept defeat & painfully suffer wrong.

    Sometimes 100 helpless women are kidnapped in one night,
    As it is impossible with a gun in your face to put up a fight,
    Democratic Republic of Congo is a woman’s worst nightmare,
    However, if America won’t get justice here how will they there?

    And these aren’t rumors of unrest because the reports are factual,
    Any entity ready, willing & able to assist Amnesty International?
    Some say it is their government’s fault, after all they are corrupt,
    Villages of old men, women & children yes they’re sitting ducks.

    Okay, billions are pledged to save the failing economy of Greece,
    High tech weapons for good guys are stolen from Mexican Police,
    Nothing more than armed street thugs, this army of the Congolese,
    Waiting on our help what’s the saying about hell beginning to freeze?

    Where there is no monetary reward how little we value others lives,
    More coverage in America about Saudi women not allowed to drive,
    Make an effort to check, as it’s a sure bet,
    Until something valuable is found in the Congo, our country will forget.

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