Newsweek writer Christopher Dickey recently interviewed Ashley Judd, who visited eastern Congo about six months ago with Population Services International, and witnessed the tens of thousands of refugees there. "Goma," says Judd, "is a shithole." Writes Dickey, "the description is perfectly accurate." There are no paved roads, there are giant potholes, there's rubble and dust, and there was a volcanic eruption not that long ago.It's hard to understand and describe the situation in the country; the Tutsis — the tribe slaughtered in Rwanda during the genocide of 1994 — are leading an army against the government. 5.4 million people have died from war-related causes in the Congo since 1998, which one organization calls "the world’s deadliest documented conflict since WW II." And the majority of deaths were from "secondary" causes: malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia and malnutrition. Preventable, and treatable, under different circumstances. But Ashley Judd says that women and children "tend to be the most vulnerable and the most exploited and the most underserved and so there is probably a gender inequality factor that contributes to the lack of attention that's being given." Judd's experiences in the Congo — especially when she met with the many, many women who had been brutally raped — had a real impact on her. "I was flat on my back for three weeks after," she says. (She went to a doctor and then a psychologist, who diagnosed her with "plain old straight-up grief.") Judd is extremely articulate about the horrors she witnessed:
"[I sat with] a woman, who, through word of mouth, heard there was a clinic which could help a woman who had been raped. She had to figure out—in the midst of being stigmatized, in the midst of her physical agony, in the midst of incontinence and starvation—how to get herself walking, crawling to this clinic, only to find that it's overcrowded, because there are so many women, hundreds, if not thousands, just like her. And just imagine, this is a clinic that does nothing but genital reconstruction; […] The vagina will tear when being forced to accommodate either a rapist's anatomy or objects that are introduced: wood, rock, sticks, guns, bayonets. There will be perforation of the vaginal walls, perforation and ripping of the cervix, potentially, based on the extent of the penetration into the uterus. The wall between the rectum and vagina is ripped apart. The urethra, which goes to the bladder, is damaged. There is incontinence. The urine is constantly seeping out, because the muscles and mechanisms that hold the bladder intact are ruined; there is faecal incontinency, which of course can introduce faecal matter into the gut, which results in horrific infections."
Christopher Dickey says: "Inevitably, there are people who say that you are a voyeur." Responds Judd: "Let them come with me—Come 'voyeur' with me." Ashley Judd’s Heart Of Darkness [Newsweek] Ashley Judd's Congo Diary [TheCommunity] Population Services International [Official Site]