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
"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,"
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
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."
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.
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.
problems include HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, as well as
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