Congo's Rape Epidemic Is Even Worse Than Previously Thought

It's well known that the Democratic Republic of Congo is suffering from an epidemic of sexual violence, but a new report claims the problem is even worse than estimated; One woman is victimized nearly every minute.

For the new study conducted by three public heath researchers, Amber Peterman of the International Food Policy Research Institute, Tia Palermo of Stony Brook University and Caryn Bredenkamp of the World Bank, 3,436 congolese women were interviewed in 2007. According to the Associated Press, the researchers found that more than 40,000 women had been raped between 2006 and 2007. According to extrapolations, that means that nationwide, 29 Congolese women out of every 1,000 had been raped. That's 58 times the annual rate in the United States, which is 0.5 per 1,000 women.

The New York Times reports that 12% of those surveyed said they'd been raped at least once, and 22% said they'd been forced to perform sexual acts or have sex by a partner. "Not only is sexual violence more generalized," said the study, "but our findings suggest that future policies and programs should focus on abuse within families."

As is common with statistics on rape, the estimates are probably too low. In addition to subjects being silenced by the stigma associated with reporting rape, only women ages 15 to 49 were surveyed. Witnesses report that armed gangs often rape young girls, older women, and an increasing number of men and boys.

Some researchers are questioning the new study, saying the sample size is too small. The new estimate is 26 times the United Nations previous calculation of 16,000 rapes per year. Beatrix Attinger Colijn, the head of the U.N. team addressing sexual violence in Congo, tells Reuters that the numbers aren't reliable because they're five years old and don't take into account local and cultural factors. "This seems a limited type of study, we try to get away from numbers and give a more analytical context of why sexual violence happens," she said.

Attinger Colijn added that emphasizing sexual violence distracts from the country's other problems, and donors are already giving huge amounts of money to charities that focus on rape. "We don't need figures like this to know sexual violence is a problem, there are many other types of violence and human rights issues that need to be tackled," she said. No one's arguing that rape is Congo's only problem, and that's a pretty disturbing response from the person the U.N. has tasked with addressing the issue. Whether 20,000 or 200,000 Congolese women are being raped each year, can we really be paying too much attention to the issue?

48 Women Raped Every Hour In Congo, Study Finds [AP]
Congo Study Sets Estimate For Rapes Much Higher [NYT]
400,000-Plus Women Raped In Congo Yearly: Study [Reuters]