Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Sexual Violence in Eastern Congo

...and What You Can Do to Help Its Victims

Honorata Barinjibanwa, 18, said she was kidnapped from a village during a raid in April and kept as a sex slave until August. Most of that time she was tied to a tree, and she still has rope marks ringing her neck. Her kidnappers would untie her for a few hours each day to gang-rape her, she said.
Photo: Hazel Thompson for The New York Times

On October 7, 2007, the New York Times published a story about the rape epidemic in the Congo, "Rape Epidemic Raises Trauma of Congo War." The piece painted a horrifying portrait of mass rapes in war-torn Eastern Congo. According to the UN, 27,000 women were raped in the South Kivu Province in 2006, and “[t]he sexual violence in Congo is the worst in the world." These rapes are particularly brutal: "Many have been so sadistically attacked from the inside out, butchered by bayonets and assaulted with chunks of wood, that their reproductive and digestive systems are beyond repair," wrote Jeffrey Gettleman, the East Africa bureau chief of the Times. "'We don’t know why these rapes are happening, but one thing is clear,' said Dr. Mukwege, who works in South Kivu Province, the epicenter of Congo’s rape epidemic. 'They are done to destroy women.'" Gettleman's depiction was of a world populated by perpetrators gone mad: "According to victims, one of the newest groups to emerge is called the Rastas, a mysterious gang of dreadlocked fugitives who live deep in the forest, wear shiny tracksuits and Los Angeles Lakers jerseys and are notorious for burning babies, kidnapping women and literally chopping up anybody who gets in their way." An accompanying slideshow and video brought the faces of their victims to life. At the center of the story was the Panzi Hospital of Bukavu, a not-for-profit hospital that treats many of the rape epidemic's victims, women who spend their days in bed "lying on their backs, staring at the ceiling, with colostomy bags hanging next to them because of all the internal damage."

Susannah Bresslin a.k.a. The Reverse Cowgirl, who posted the above, went in touch with Erika Beckman, Project Manager of the Female Victims of Sexual Violence project at the Panzi Hospital, asking how people may help the victims.

Read the full reply by Erika after the jump.
Her project surely deserves any support.

Dearest Susannah,

Apologies for my late reply, but I have been in Europe for work two weeks so just got back again.

Thank you so much for mailing us and asking how your readers can help. We are glad to hear that the NYT article has been much spread, and the project has received much-needed attention since the article was published and we are happy that people are touched by the situation of the Congolese women and would like to help us in this struggle to end the violence against women.

If readers wish to contribute funds they can do it through the Bank Account of Panzi General Reference Hospital, to which they can send their donation. Please mark the check or bank transfer with "VVS project" ("Victims de Violence Sexuelle Projet", in other words, Victims of Sexual Violence project). This is the project that is run within the infrastructure of the Panzi hospital and in which we treat and rehabilitate the raped women. The hospital is owned and run by the organisation called CEPAC.

Account number: 170-0362031-93 (USD account)

Swift code / BCDCCDKI

I can assure the readers that it is safe to send funds through the hospital, it is very well run and there has never been any problems with donations not reaching the project and the women. (The hospital is run by a Christian organisation and the accountants and finance staff are all excellent people performing their jobs to the highest standard--I work with them daily so can assure you of this.)

In regards to what the funds will specifically be used for, it is to be able to treat even more women than we already do, and to continue doing this in the future. Currently, part of the VVS-project is funded by ECHO--the European humanitarian agency, but this is by no means enough and most likely the funding will finish in June next year. This is because, as with all humanitarian projects, they are only funded for a short period of time and after that the organisation has to either fund it by themselves or find other donors. With the extent of the VVS-program at Panzi hospital, it is not possible for the hospital or the organisation that is the owner of the hospital (CEPAC), to continue financing this on their own. Also, as I mentioned, we already receive such a high influx of women daily that we are already above the limit of our capacity. We have never turned a woman away from here, but instead our staff work extra long hours to be able to attend to all women, perform all surgeries and we stretch all our resources to the maximum to be able to feed all the women, given them hygiene products and handicrafts training. But we are certainly outgrowing ourselves, this is partly due to the huge number of raped women arriving day and night here, but also because Panzi hospital is well known through radio emissions and word-of-mouth throughout Eastern DRC, so we receive alot of women from far away that want to be treated by the best gyneacologists in Congo.

To give you and the readers a brief overview of how the women are treated here, we receive approx. 200 rape victims a month at the hospital. We have both in-patients (women with more severe wounds) who reside at the hospital, and out-patients (less severe wounds) that stay in our "transit homes" where they are taken care of in-between treatments at the hospital. All women that come here receive the treatment, operations and training for free. Their children they might have with them are also cared for, as well as accompanying relatives or neighbours. Women stay here on average 30 days for treatment, many women need multiple operations to be rehabilitated, and many need to heal in between the operations too. During their stay here, the women are taught how to read and write, they are taught different handicrafts and how to be self-sustainable. They are also given legal counselling and guided by lawyers if they wish to press charges against their perpetrators. (Currently we have 14 cases pending, but sadly because of the weak judicial system in DR Congo, perpetrators are always let off the hook).

The best evidence of the importance we have on the raped women that we treat is that many have told me that they would not have survived if they did not come to Panzi. Many women are, as you can understand, suicidal after the rape, but here at Panzi, except for medical treatment, they are also given their value back by our excellent staff and fellow victims who support each other, sing together to relieve the pain, work together on handicrafts and laugh together. They are truly amazing at finding small things to be happy about in life and really encourage each other in this way.

There is much joy amidst the disaster.

Please let me know if you have any further questions or would like more material. I will attach a general overview of the work of the project and the hospital above.

Wishing you a blessed day, Erika

Erika Beckman
Project Manager- PMU Interlife
Female Victims of Sexual Violence project
Panzi Hospital
+243 (0)813186246

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