400,000 women raped in 1 year

STONY BROOK U. (US) — In the Democratic Republic of Congo, more than 400,000 women ages 15 to 49 were raped in a 12-month period. That is 1,152 every day, 48 every hour, and four every five minutes.

A new study based on an examination of government-collected and nationally representative data from the country—and published in the American Journal of Public Health—shows that levels of rape and sexual violence against women in the country are 26 times higher than official United Nations estimates.

“These estimates of the incidence or rape are 26 times higher than the 15,000 reported by the United Nations for the DRC in 2010,” says Tia Palermo, assistant professor of preventive medicine at Stony Brook University.

Offering perspective on the widespread nature of rape in the country and region of the world, Palermo says: “The shockingly high number is also seven times higher than the estimated 57,000 women raped during Sierra Leone’s entire 10-year conflict.”

The study represents the first-ever population counts and determinants of sexual violence against women in DRC and is based on rigorous analysis of nationally representative data collected by the DRC Ministries of Planning and Health.

Previous information on the incidence of rape in the country from governmental and non-governmental organizations, and in peer-reviewed publications and popular press, have numbered rape victims in the “tens of thousands.”

Sexual violence occurred in all of the country’s provinces, the study shows, but the number of women raped in the eastern conflict area of North Kivu—67 per 1,000—is more than double the national average of 29 per 1,000.

“The study creates another compelling argument that sexual violence in the DRC is not only a grievous mass violation of human rights but is a security threat to the entire DRC,” says Michael VanRooyen, director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative.

“While there are certainly limitations to the use of these data, the message is important and clear: Rape in the DRC has metastasized amid a climate of impunity, and has emerged as one of the great human crises of our time.”

A research brief of the findings says the estimates demonstrate that the level of sexual violence is both magnitudes higher and more geographically dispersed than previously estimated. Compared to women in the U.S., where the Department of Justice estimates that 0.5 women are raped per 1,000 women aged 12 and up annually, our analysis shows that women in the DRC are 58 more times to be raped annually.

Further, rates of intimate partner sexual violence were also comparatively high. These findings are supported by prior research suggesting that intimate partner sexual violence is the most pervasive form of sexual violence worldwide.

The study confirms that previous estimates of rape and sexual violence in the DRC are severe underestimates of the prevailing sexual violence occurring in the country, Peterman says.

Direct implications of the findings point to the need for a stronger policy response to curb sexual violence and also highlight the importance of the need for interventions cutting across geographic regions and socioeconomic levels.

“Moreover, even these new, much higher figures still represent a conservative estimate of the true prevalence of sexual violence because of chronic underreporting due to stigma, shame, perceived impunity, and exclusion of younger and older age groups as well as men.”

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