March 8, 2003
Between March 2000 and December 2002, 548 victims (99.3% women) of sexual violence were admitted to the emergency ward at Makélékélé hospital in Brazzaville, the Republic of Congo. The ages of the victims ranged between 6 months and 69 years.
On March 8, 2003, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) will launch a campaign to raise awareness of the impact of rape on women and society in Brazzaville, where MSF runs a comprehensive program to aid rape victims that includes post-exposure prophylaxis to reduce the risk of HIV/AIDS infection.
Raising awareness in the streets of Brazzaville
March 8th, 2003
– 500 human-sized silhouettes made of wood will be installed in the streets of Brazzaville as symbols of the suffering endured by women victims of rape.
– A Congolese troupe will stage a theatrical performance devised to raise awareness of the consequences of rape. The short plays will take place on a set built onto the back of a flat-bed truck, which will tour through the neighborhoods of Ouenze, TalangaÃ¯, Makélékélé, Bacongo, etc.
Around March 8th
– Bumper stickers, badges, pamphlets, posters, and advertising streamers bearing the slogan Tika/Bika viol, je dis non! (I say no to rape!) will be distributed throughout the city.
Let's Face Up to Rape!
Rape is a taboo topic, but we must not shy away from addressing it. Rape is a brutal attack on a woman's sense of integrity and a crime that too often goes unpunished. It is a crime that causes serious trauma, which leaves its victims with life-long consequences, and which has equally serious social repercussions.
The Severe Consequences of Rape
Women who have been raped suffer terrible consequences, even if many of these pass unnoticed: violation of the woman's sense of integrity, physical and psychological injury, HIV infection, unwanted pregnancy, and expulsion from the family unit.
– The most frequent
physicalconsequences are tearing of the vagina, urogenital infections, and sexually transmitted diseases. A woman may also become pregnant. Furthermore, women who suffer rape are greatly exposed to the risk of acquiring AIDS, so widespread in the Republic of Congo.
Psychologicalconsequences suffered by rape victims include: losing their sense of self-esteem, developing suicidal tendencies, and acquiring a revulsion for sex (which has repercussions for their present or future family lives).
– On the
sociallevel, victims of rape too often suffer rejection by their families or partners, and marginalization of the victim is an additional trauma.
Crimes That Endure Beyond the War
Between May 3rd and December 31st 1999, almost 1200 women presented themselves to the emergency ward at Makélékélé hospital, saying that they had been raped. Most of the sexual violence perpetrated during the war took place on the road linking Kinkala with Brazzaville, given the moniker 'the corridor of death' by those who survived it.
Although less than it was in 1999, the incidence of sexual violence remains high. From the number of victims still being admitted to Makélékélé hospital, we know that the phenomenon of rape did anything but end with the war.
These crimes, which were perpetrated mainly by the military during the conflict and which continue to be perpetrated by 'men-at-arms' whenever trouble descends on Brazzaville, are now committed mainly by civilians. In 60% of cases, the victim is very well acquainted with the rapist. He is a neighbor, a family friend, sometimes even a father, uncle, or brother.
Impunity of the Aggressors
Despite the clear condemnation of rape in Congolese law, not a single verdict in a rape case was handed down in 2002. No rapist questioned is ever found guilty. Although rape is a crime, a friendly arrangement is often reached between those concerned. This notorious impunity clearly constitutes a very aggravating factor of the phenomenon.
Victims Too Often Forgotten
Rape spares no one. One rape in two involves a minor: children, sometimes even babies. Boys as well as girls are raped. Nor are the elderly, pregnant women, or mothers spared. Every social category is affected.
Between March 2000 and December 2002, a total of 548 victims of sexual violence were admitted to Makélékélé hospital (99.3% were women), aged between 6 months and 69 years old.
The age brackets most affected are:
The Médecins Sans Frontières Program
Since March 2000, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has run an aid program for rape victims. MSF's goal is to offer a comprehensive, high quality service consisting of medical and psychological assistance as much as administrative and social aid. The service is entirely free and anonymous. The program is part of the National Program of Aid to Victims of Sexual Violence.
| Unfortunately, almost 50% of victims come to us too late, when there's not much we can do medically. It is absolutely essential that they come to the Makélékélé hospital with 72 hours. If they come within that window, we can prescribe them the morning-after pill to avoid pregnancy and give them a prophylaxis against STD's, most notably AIDS.
– Dr Jeanne, Program Assistant Coordinator
Given the extreme gravity of the trauma endured and the need to prevent all psychiatric and psychological complications, MSF, as a follow-up to its medical services, offers psychological treatment, taking into account the psychological trauma suffered by rape victims. A psychiatrist is made available to them, and tries to alleviate their suffering with psychotherapy. If needed, the psychiatrist can prescribe psychoactive drugs. Particular attention is paid to the mother-child relationship to prevent any burgeoning troubles the child may face, as well as any problems a mother might have accepting a child born of rape.
| One can never forget or heal from a rape. The most one can do is learn to live with it, to develop one's capacity to manage it, to put it aside. One can work at it so that it no longer handicaps one's everyday life. I know that I've done my job when I see signs of the gradual progress being made during session: a smile returning, a more relaxed mood or manner of speaking. The therapy continues for as long as I am dissatisfied with the results. The day that the victim has made progress, has returned to her daily life, and has begun to venture out alone to come and see us, then things have improved.
– Dr Grégoire, psychiatrist, Program Head
Victims of rape also benefit from social aid with administrative procedures. Very often, victims find themselves marginalized from those around them and excluded from the family or social structures. This only adds to their suffering. Unfortunately, in a country where the voluntary cessation of pregnancy is forbidden even to rape victims, many women have had to carry through their pregnancies and have been marginalized as a result. For thirty of them, MSF has initiated a project of professional reintegration, offering them a three-month training program in the techniques of hat and bag weaving. This type of positive initiative encourages the victims to take action and to resume their professional lives. Additionally, social workers visit the victims' homes to check on the medical follow-up and to encourage the victims to pay regular visits to the psychologist at the hospital.
Almost 600 people have been thus received into the Makélékélé program since its inception three years ago. An identical program has been set up at the TalangaÃ¯ hospital.
These actions have restored a bit of hope and dignity to a few women and children, albeit only a few of the many rape victims in the Congo. But treating them isn't enough. Above all, we must prevent these rapes from happening in the first place. When we are faced with the limits of medicine, when we are confronted with horror, our duty is to bear witness on behalf of the victims whom we treat and listen to.
MSF has launched the "Tika/Bika viol! I say no to rape!" campaign to raise awareness among all Brazzavilleans and to urge them to fight this scourge.
© 2013 Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)