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Men and Women Victims of Sexual Violence in the DRC
Women are not the only victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to a ground-breaking research study which was presented to U.S. Africa Command staff, January 21, 2011. <br /> <br />The Democratic Republic of the
Women are not the only victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to a ground-breaking research study which was presented to U.S. Africa Command staff, January 21, 2011. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is widely known as the "Rape Capital of the World," but previous studies have focused solely on female victims, not accounting for the significant percentage of the victims who are male. Summarizing their findings on sexual and gender-based violence in the DRC were Dr. Lynn Lawry, International Health Division, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense - Health Affairs, and Dr. Michele Wagner, U.S. AFRICOM's Social Science and Research Center. The study, "Association of Sexual Violence and Human Rights Violations With Physical and Mental Health in Territories of the Eastern DRC" was co-funded by U.S. Africa Command, the non-governmental organization Medical Corps, and McGill University. It was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in August 2010. DRC has a history of instability, military coups and rebel violence from within its borders and from neighboring countries. The United Nations Organization Mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) began operations in 2001 to implement the provisions of a 1999 ceasefire accord signed by six African governments to end a six-year civil and regional war. However, unrest has continued, resulting in an outbreak of sexual violence, which according to Lawry and Wagner, is non-discriminate in its targets--including men, women, boys, and girls. Lawry, who presented the quantitative portion of the study, emphasized that gender-based violence affects every aspect of life, and has an impact on a nation's security. "I hope that in the end, the command will be able to see that it's not just a medical problem; it's not an issue for one group. It's an issue for everybody and it actually has bearing on security in the region and in the continent," Lawry said. "We'll have to figure out how to break the cycle of violence." Lawry stated that sexual violence in the DRC is conflict-related, used as a weapon of war, and is not limited by gender. Her findings, from surveys done in 46 villages in South Kivu, North Kivu, and Ituri Distict, show: The rate of sexual violence is 40 percent among women and 23 percent among men. 20 percent of the population fought in the conflicts, 48 percent of which were female2.1 million women and 1.3 million men have suffered sexual violence1.3 percent of rapes among women were gang rapes39 percent of female survivors reported female perpetrators; 15 percent of male survivors reported female perpetrators.These statistics challenge the paradigm of male perpetrator and female victim, and also highlight the importance of improving prevention and response programs and medical care to address men and boys, in addition to women and girls. Lawry and Wagner explained that sex and gender based violence in the DRC is not just "violence against women" and programs that focus only on male perpetrators and female victims are addressing only half of the problem. Adding to the complexity of the problem is the fact that many of the perpetrators were once victims themselves. According to the two researchers, the main offenders are not members of the Armed Forces of the DRC (Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo, widely known as FARDC), as often reported. Statistically, the FARDC is the cause of only six percent of sexual violence in the DRC; 94 percent of sexual war crimes come from separate rebel groups. Wagner, who presented the qualitative data, talked about the complexities involved with combatants in the DRC, providing anecdotes from interviews with ex-combatants, many of whom were forced into military service with no other way out than to escape. "As soldiers expressed in interview after interview, they themselves felt so constrained and disempowered and humiliated--they felt that they had been sacrificed by being in the military--that they emphasized that rape was their revenge, that rape was a form of establishing power and domination," Wagner stated. She stressed the importance of providing training and medical support not just to the FARDC but also to rebel groups. "We need to be able to see the FARDC people by gender, by generation, by experience…" said Wagner. "So this is something different--a different kind of knowledge that's very, very important to bring out and put on the table at AFRICOM." The question Lawry and Wagner raised is how to break this cycle of violence, in which victims become perpetrators, and continue committing sexual violence as they cross borders or fight in regional conflicts. Key to solving this problem is ensuring that prevention and response programs take into account male victims. Additionally, medical, psychosocial, and legal care should address both men and women. Current United Nations and national sex and gender based violence strategies do not recognize ex-combatant male survivors or male survivors in general. Additionally, prevention strategies and funding have to address rebel groups, not just the FARDC. "It's not about taking away resources from women's programs. It's about making sure that even if it's one man in 2 million women, that that man has the right to the same services that everybody else does," said Lawry. "I see this as a whole-of-command piece. It's not just medical; it's not just gender awareness; it's not just security. Gender-based violence or sexual violence in Congo is a complex area. It will take prevention and response strategies," she added. View the complete transcript of this presentation: Research Study on Sex and Gender Based Violence For more about how U.S. AFRICOM is parting with the military in the DRC, visit U.S. and DRC in Partnership to Train Model Congolese Battalion.