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Rape Counseling Centers in DRC Address Unwanted Pregnancies

  • Ricci Shryock

Opened as safe havens where rape victims can receive emotional support, the International Committee of the Red Cross' counseling centers in the Democratic Republic of Congo are also trying to help the women who are pregnant as a result of the rapes.

Rape victims

When the International Committee of the Red Cross began opening the Listening Houses in the Democratic Republic of Congo, they expected to hear the stories of rape that occurred in the North and South Kivu regions. But they also began seeing dozens of women arrive every month with unwanted pregnancies as results of the rapes, says the ICRC's Women in War Advisor, Nadine Puechguirbal.

"That's a very delicate situation, because the work of psychosocial will be very important, because they have to find out also what's the state of mind of the pregnant woman if she wants to keep the baby if she's angry at herself or the baby because she has been raped and now she carries that baby and so what to do next," Puechguirbal said.

Teenage pregnancies

From July to September in 2010 alone, 86 women who had become pregnant as a result of rape arrived at the houses, which serve as rape counseling centers, said Puechguirbal. More than half of those pregnancies were girls younger than 18. She says the psychosocial workers at the centers encourage the women to welcome the baby. She adds they are not allowed to recommend abortion, because it is illegal in the DRC, so the workers urge both the women and their communities to accept and raise the child.

"And that's where we are working a lot within the community not only to accept the woman… the community accept the woman back into her family and into her own environment, but also to accept the baby and the children born of rape," she added.

The ICRC began working with local partners to develop the Listening Houses in the DRC in 2007. The Listening Houses, known by their French name, "Maisons d'Ecoute," were created to provide a sanctuary where women who were raped can go to receive both psychosocial and limited medical support.

"If you have one woman who has been raped and she doesn't know where to go and she has heard that there is there is a Maison d'Ecoute in her village she can go to and tell her story to trained local psychosocial workers," said Puechguirbal. "So the woman arrives, she's welcomed by one of the psychosocial workers, she's given food and clothes if needed, she can also spend the night or two there"

Social stigma

After the houses began opening, they realized they also had a platform to help the pregnant women who were coming to them as a result of rape. They began tracking how many pregnant women they received each three months, and began to think about the kind of help they could offer them.

"All the issues around rape and sexual violence are really taboo and women don't really talk about this subject, so it's extremely difficult for them after being raped, they keep the stories for themselves," Puechguirbal added.

Rape is often used as a weapon in the DRC, where armed conflict has resulted in the deadliest war since World War II, killing more than 5.4 million people. According to the top United Nations envoy in the country, more than 15,000 women were raped in Eastern Congo in 2009.