Surviving Sexual Violence in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo

Authored by: Susan Bartels, Jennifer Scott, Jennifer Leaning, et al

Categories: Human Rights, Violent Conflict
Sub-Categories: Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV), Sexual and Reproductive Health
Country: Democratic Republic of Congo
Region: Sub-Saharan Africa
Year: 2010
Citation: Bartels, Susan, Jennifer Scott, Jennifer Leaning, et al, "Surviving Sexual Violence in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo." Journal of International Women's Studies 11, no. 4 (2010): 37-49.

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Executive Summary

Since 1996 a deadly conflict has been ongoing in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Within this conflict, sexual violence has been inflicted upon women as a strategic weapon of war. Given the challenges of working in this setting, this sexual violence epidemic has not been well studied. The current work is a retrospective chart review of women presenting to Panzi Hospital in 2006 requesting post-sexual violence care. The goals were to describe the demographics of sexual violence survivors and to define the physical and psychosocial consequences of sexual violence in Eastern DRC. A total of 1021 patient medical records were reviewed. The mean age was 36 years with an age range of 3.5 years to 80 years. Approximately 90% of sexual violence survivors were either illiterate or had attended only primary school. There were significant delays between the incidents of sexual violence and presentation to Panzi hospital (mean = 16 months, median = 11 months). Physical consequences reported following sexual violence included pelvic pain (22% of women), lumbar pain (11%), abdominal pain (7%) and pregnancy (6%). Thirty six percent of women reported being concerned about their health and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) plus HIV/AIDS were the most commonly singled out health concerns. Six percent of women reported that their husbands had abandoned them after the rape and abandonment was more common after gang rape or if the sexual violence resulted in pregnancy. Treatment programs for survivors of sexual violence must specifically address the economic hardships faced by victims must meet their time-sensitive medical needs and must provide them with psychological care.