Dispatch From Congo: Treating the Atrocity of Rape, Part 2

Lane Hartill, CRS’ regional information officer for West Africa, recently visited eastern Congo, where he documented CRS’ response to the sexual violence that is an atrocity of the ongoing war.

The stories of rape in eastern Congo are remarkably similar in their horror. Most of them start out the same way: A knock on the door. The armed men enter. The husband is beaten or killed. Then comes the gang rape.

But when you are actually sitting in front of a woman and she’s looking you in the eye, telling you in a monotone voice how they raped her, and you can see when she looks away, when her body language shifts, you know it’s hurting her again.

That’s when the rapes in Congo hit you.

It was like that when I talked with Birava. She recently moved into a new shack because she was taunted so badly in her previous neighborhood because she’d been raped. Her new place costs, $5 a month. But as a single mother with five children to feed, she has a hard time making rent.

We sat on vegetable oil tins and jerry cans in the front room, the one with the mud floor. She sat on a discarded engine block. She’d carefully folded some cloth for cushions. She told me her story. About the 12 soldiers who’d raped her. About the 6 miles she gingerly walked to Panzi with a prolapsed uterus. About the HIV she contracted from her now-deceased husband. And about her husband’s family who showed up recently wanting to take her kids away from her.

Birava didn’t hesitate to tell her story. I can’t imagine anyone going through something like this, then pouring her heart out to a complete stranger. Maybe it’s cathartic, I thought. Maybe she needs this.

A big part of her recovery is owed to Mama Jeanette, a counselor who volunteers for CRS’ partner, Foundation Femme Plus. She has turned into an older sister for Birava.
“She doesn’t do anything without telling me,” Jeanette says. Jeanette told me when the two are alone, Birava even has a sense of humor.

“Even though I have HIV,” she’ll sing, “I’m still living.”

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