The number of rapes carried out by civilians in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is on the rise, according to a new survey commissioned by the British charity Oxfam.
In the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, 60 percent of rape victims surveyed said they had been gang raped by armed men. Most of the women reported being raped in their family home.
The majority of rapists were soldiers and militiamen, but the survey found that rape is also spreading among the civilian population.
Krista Riddley is director of humanitarian policy at Oxfam America. "There has been a huge increase in the number of civilians who are perpetrating rape, and it just shows that the situation in eastern Congo is very volatile and that because of the years and years of conflict the social morays have broken down to the point where rape seems normal," she said.
The research is based on an analysis of information from more than 4,000 female rape victims between 2004 and 2008 at Panzi Hospital in South Kivu Province.
The survey found that 16 percent of rapes took place in fields and 15 percent in forests - but the majority, 56 percent - were carried out in the family home. "One of the very shocking things was that the majority of women were raped in their own homes, so it kind of shows you that women are not safe anywhere," said Riddley.
Congo President Joseph Kabila has asked the United Nations to withdraw its 20,000-member peacekeeping force by 2011.
Oxfam spokesperson Rebecca Wynn says this report shows the peacekeeping force is still needed, but with changes. "Based on these findings we feel that protection offered by the U.N. peacekeepers needs to be very much more tailored to local realities. They need to become more proactive in their approach," she said.
The study found that more than 50 percent of women waited more than a year after being raped before seeking treatment - too late to get treatment to prevent HIV infection.
Oxfam says this may in part be because of the stigma surrounding rape, less than one percent went to Panzi hospital with their husbands.
But Wynn says it is also because there are not enough medical facilities. "Panzi hospital is the only hospital of its kind in South Kivu and there are five million people in South Kivu. What this means is that many people from rural areas cannot make the journey to Panzi hospital and often, because some of these rapes are very brutal, they can die from complications," she said.
The rape research in the DRC was conducted by Harvard University's Harvard Humanitarian Initiative.