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Rape in Congo

The American Journal of Public Health is publishing a study today (it wasn’t posted as of this writing, but here’s the web site for it) that shows the appalling prevalence of rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Women rape victims learning to read in DRC center

Women rape victims learning to read in DRC center

Here’s a link to the GlobalPost story on it. The study finds that nearly 2 million women have been raped in the DRC whether the war there has been raging or simply lingering on. In her Foreign Policy blog, Elizabeth Dickinson asks why has sexual violence in Cong persisted despite the aid money spent and attempts by the United Nations and other organizations to stop it? She offers this interpretation:

 ”For years, political scientists and journalists looking at conflict (in Congo and elsewhere) have argued that sexual violence is a political tool of warfare. Women are raped as militias sweep across territory, laying stake to their claims and shaming the men whose wives are assaulted this way. It’s a means of symbolic conquer.  

Here’s a more alarming thought, however: What if rape has actually become systemic — not a brutal act of conquest so much as a systemic, even rational occurance in a system that has been built upon violence.”

The implication of that is scary. Not only does it suggest that rape is a normalized, accepted happening in countries where violence has dominated, it also implies that women are not seen as humans, but as things. If, indeed, rape is an acceptable act that men have built into the system that has ruled Congo for generations, then the crafters of that system have built into it that women are people without human value. It is the same sort of mindset and excuse-making that propelled the Nazis’ portrayal of Jews during World War Two as nonhumans and made their extermination seem a legitimate course of action to non-Jewish Germans and other Europeans. Such drastic dehumanization of a group of people is a prelude to destruction of that group. It’s that simple — and that complex. Which is why there’s no easy answers on how to stem these rapes.

The surest, most immediate curb would be a legal system that clearly marks rape as illegal and holds perpetrators responsible by trial and imprisonment. Law and order and accountabiliy get a bad rape in some quarters in the United States, but they are he first elements needed in a society that has operated without them, a society like the DRC, where rape is accepted and, saddest of all, to be expected.

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