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Congo's Rape Victims, Scarred For Life, Get Little Help

Even though the war is officially over in the Democratic Republic of Congo, rapes are still rampant in unstable parts of the mostly lawless country. The perpetrators are usually members of the many remaining armed militias and rogue army units. VOA’s Nico Colombant reports from Bukavu, in eastern Congo.

In Bukavu's only hospital center, rape victims are the most common patients.

It seems peaceful, but in the deep forests and muddy areas beyond the hospital, atrocities against women occur on a daily basis. Many women arrive here to tell their horror stories when they give birth. But many others never survive and their stories remain untold.

A small staff with limited resources tries to help as best it can.

Dr. Lebon is the only surgeon and gynecologist in Bukavu. "There are cases that defy explanation. The women often have terrible infections or diseases. In addition to the rape, here such attacks are often made worse when the rapists force sand, grass or leaves into the woman's genital area. Some women do not survive. Some are shot after being raped. They are shot directly into their vagina. When the victim is gang raped, there is horrible tearing inside her."

The most recent victim who arrived at the hospital is Nabunani Nsimire. She has just given birth to a premature baby who weighs one-kilo 300 grams. Nsimire is 20 and has been disabled since birth. She comes from a village 75 kilometers from Bukavu.

In front of the camera, she tells doctors one more time about the night militias terrorized her village.

"It was raining. My father was tied up. My mother and sister ran away. The militia found me hiding under my bed. They tied my hands behind my back and blindfolded me. I was raped until morning. During this time, I could also hear the looting going on. I could hear people everywhere screaming."

Rape victims help each other out. Often, they only trust other victims. Once they arrive here, even after months of treatment, they rarely want to leave.

Joseph Kabanga is a psychologist at the hospital. “They have bitterness. They have hate. They often express feelings of vengeance. They are not ready to forgive. Why?” he asks. “Because, a raped woman, in our culture, loses most of her value to society. These rapes were committed in horrible conditions. These are not just rapes. The rapists commit them in front of other family members, in front of children, in front of other members of the community.”

In the past three years, more than 12,000 rape victims have been helped here.

The ones who refuse to leave say they need more help from the new government, so that their communities can learn to understand their suffering and accept them and their babies, however savagely they came to be.