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Anxious and Brokenhearted

On May 15 of this year [2001], four heavily armed combatants—they were Hutu—came to our house at 9 p.m. Everyone in the neighborhood had fled. I wanted to hide my children, but I didn’t have time. They took my husband and tied him to a pole in the house. My four-month-old baby started crying and I started breastfeeding him and then they left me alone.

They went after my daughter, and I knew they would rape her. But she resisted and said she would rather die than have relations with them. They cut off her left breast and put it in her hand. They said, “Are you still resisting us?” She said she would rather die than be with them. They cut off her genital labia and showed them to her. She said, “Please kill me.” They took a knife and put it to her neck and then made a long vertical incision down her chest and split her body open. She was crying but finally she died.

She died with her breast in her hand. RCD officers came and looked at the body. But then they went away and I don’t think they ever did anything about it. I didn’t talk to other authorities because I thought it was a military matter. There is no electricity there, and we couldn’t see much, but we could hear her scream and see what happened when we saw the body in the morning. I never saw the attackers again, but I couldn’t even see them well that night. They didn’t stay after they killed my daughter.

– Testimony from Congolese woman whose daughter was murdered, from Peacewomen.org

Willermine Mulihano said she was raped twice — first by Hutu militiamen two years ago and then by Nkunda soldiers in July. Two soldiers held her legs apart, while three others took turns violating her.

“When I think about what happened,” she said, “I feel anxious and brokenhearted.”

She is also lonely. Her husband divorced her after the first rape, saying she was diseased.

– From a New York Times article on titled Rape Epidemic Raises Trauma of Congo War

I sat down tonight to write a fictional story about a girl who was attacked in the Congo. The shameful use of sexual violence as a weapon, and the horror inflicted upon women, from infants through to women in their 80s and 90s, is horrifying. Yet, in reading more about what’s going on, I couldn’t even bring it upon myself to inflict this on a fictional character.

This is happening now.

Women are being raped. Not just raped, but having bits of tree inserted into them, or gun, which are often then shot. The men in the village or family are usually killed. The women are then subjected to sexual torture.

Sometimes, it gets even worse- if you can believe it. Members of families are forced, at gun point, to rape each other. Men are forced to watch as their wives are raped, brutalized, then killed.

This is happening now.

Women are forced to cook the bodies of their own children and eat them. Sometimes, the torture can last for days. There are many known cases of women being held and fed, only to discover later they were fed their own children.

This is happening now.

There is no punishment for the perpetrators, no recourse for action. It’s an epidemic.

And it’s happening now.

Did you know?

If you did, have you done something?

If you didn’t, will you do something?

The thing is, if we know this is happening, we are responsible for either taking action or not taking action. Yes, it’s complicated, expensive, difficult.

But I do not want to live in a world where we know this is happening and refuse to do anything about it because it’s too difficult. It is our duty, our obligation, when we know this is happening to do something about it. This is happening. We need to make it stop.

Take Action

1. Raise your voice Learn more about what is happening to women and children in the Congo. Visit Raise Hope For Congo, and learn more about how you can make your voice count. Talk to people. Tell them what is happening. Write to your local member of parliament. If the public knows about this, and puts pressure on the government, they make take action. There are some links at the bottom of the page to informative articles about the situation

This month, Raise Hope for Congo is starting a three month advocacy drive, where you commit to spending some time in the next few months to raising awareness for the situation in the Congo.  I’ve signed up, and certainly encourage you to do the same. Go here to sign up- and please, let me know if you do.

2. Donate generously to the work of international aid agencies doing work directly in the Congo. There are clinics that provide difficult and expensive resortative surgery to the victims of these horrendous attacks. Many of the women survive, but their digestive and reproductive systems are savaged. They also have services such as day care for children born of rape, allowing their mothers to still make a living. Money doesn’t solve the problem, but it can help provide essential medical care to the victims.

Aid Groups that provide direct assistance to victims
Heal Africa
International Rescue Committee
Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders)

Further Information about sexual violence in the Congo
Nick Kristof column
Unicef report
Excellent video interview with Lisa Jackson who made a documentary called “The Greatest Silence: Sexual Violence in the Congo”

-cross-posted to The Black Valentine’s Day Manifesto.

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