BUKAVU, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO/BARCELONA—Women were raped en masse early this month after an attack by an armed militia on a town in South Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), according to 127 victims treated by the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
On the evening of May 1, approximately 60 armed men attacked Kikamba, a town in South Kivu's Shabunda region, according to reports to MSF by the town’s inhabitants. The attackers looted homes, assaulted men, and raped a large number of women in the early morning hours after the attack. They also took roughly 30 children as prisoners, using them to carry stolen goods before releasing them.
"Large-scale sexual assaults linked to armed groups are, unfortunately, not exceptional within the DRC context," said Francisco Otero, MSF head of mission in South Kivu.
An MSF team arrived a day after receiving an alert about the incident. Although a large part of the population had fled into the forest, many victims visited Kikamba’s medical center after the MSF team arrived. Several women from the group reported being raped by attackers. In the days that followed, more than 100 women came forward, stating that they too had been victims of sexual assault. Victims of rape range in age from 14 to 70.
MSF treated 127 rape victims and implemented procedures to ensure their privacy during follow up care. At least two people suffering gunshot injuries were treated and sent to two MSF-supported hospitals in the area.
"Many victims came forward very quickly, looking for medical assistance," said Otero. “This is not the norm, as victims usually don’t report this type of aggression for fear of retaliation by armed groups or rejection by their own community."
MSF began assisting the Kikamba Health Center in 2010 due to the large influx of displaced people in the area. The support helps guarantee access to basic health care for Kikamba’s inhabitants. In the region of Shabunda, MSF assists six health centers in Shabunda and Matili. Last year, MSF performed more than 150,000 consultations in the area, 260 of which were for injuries related to sexual violence.