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Immediate and Long-Term Care Needed For Sexual Violence Victims in DRC

The International Rescue Committee says women and girls in North Kivu Province of the DRC are again being sexually assaulted and raped in large numbers. The IRC is one of the agencies working in the eastern DRC.

Sarah Spencer, emergency gender-based violence coordinator for the International Rescue Committee, spoke from Goma to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about conditions in the eastern DRC.

"The scale ands the scope of the sexual violence…in North Kivu is tremendous. Women and girls are facing daily sexual violence as they go in search of firewood in isolated forests that are occupied by armed groups, as they cross front lines everyday to collect and harvest their crops to eat and sell in the markets and even as they sleep at night in the camps where they sought refuge," she says.

The IRC conducted a "rapid assessment" of the needs of women and girls in the very crowded Kibati Camp near Goma, which has been the scene of violence. Spencer says that while there are efforts to address those needs, they are simply not enough. "The population and demand for support and the demand for protection far outweigh the capacity at the moment," she says.

All armed groups pose a threat. She says, "There are a number of armed groups present in Kibati and present throughout all of North Kivu. But let me just be clear that all parties to the conflict in North Kivu are perpetrating acts of sexual violence."

Victims of sexual violence, besides suffering serious and sometimes fatal physical trauma, also suffer psychological trauma. Spencer says, "We've seen time and time again emergency assistance given by non-governmental organizations, the UN and emergency attention and assistance given by international governments. But what's really needed is long-term assistance for survivors of sexual violence."

That's because many women may wait months or even years to report a rape or seek assistance. "The security situation doesn't allow them access to appropriate and confidential health care. Or they're not in the position personally to be able to report the case yet," she says.

Spencer says describes the consequences when women are unable to get timely treatment and care. "In general, any survivor of sexual violence may feel intense shame. They may suffer from self-blame and guilt about the incident. On the social level, they may be ostracized or isolated by their community or their family members, which compounds the feeling of self-blame. They may have chronic anxiety and insomnia, which again leads to psychosomatic conditions and chronic gastrointestinal problems," she says.

Other problems include HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, as well as unwanted pregnancies.

The International Rescue Committee official adds, "The difference… between Congo and other conflicts at the moment is that there is an opportunity for peace and there is a solution…. And in order to secure that peace, it will require commitments on the part of top level diplomats from foreign governments…the Congolese government and parties to the conflict."