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Democratic Republic of Congo: “They are pieces of cloth that can be crumpled at anyone’s will.”

August 13, 2016

GPJ-DRCKIRUMBA, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO —  I know that people around the world say that DRC is a country where acts of sexual violence are common.

But to truly understand the situation, you need to be here. Physically here.

I live in and report from the Lubero Territory. Here in this remote part of eastern DRC, women and girls are raped every day. Anywhere and at any time. The results are devastating. Many, many women carry the babies and the sexually transmitted diseases of their attackers.

Livelihoods are also at stake. Typically, agriculture is the main occupation for women here. But the fields are no longer safe. Those who have long made their living in the fields hesitate to work, afraid of being raped by bandits or by men from the numerous armed groups that are active here.

It was the constant fear of women in my community that prompted me to write this article. I decided to approach the man in charge of the territory’s new child protection and sexual violence unit. I wanted to understand their strategy. I wanted to know if this could really be a solution. I found mixed results.

I was able to uncover some good news about the strategies the unit is using to track down perpetrators of sexual violence. He had numerous examples of men who had been found guilty by his unit in the past few months.

But what choked me was the discovery that even after the unit finds someone guilty and passes him along to the prosecutors and courts, our culture of corruption often prevails.

The problem in question is corruption that favors impunity.

As I heard his stories of success undermined by the exchange of cash after the fact, a question came to me: If someone who commits atrocious acts of violence against women can be released after paying a bribe disguised as bail money, how can women ever feel safe?

During my interview with the commander, he assured me that they are doing their best to punish the guilty. But the civilian police unit is not enough. I wonder what it will take to create a cooperative system where police and judges and government leaders work together to support their country’s women.

I am one of the only journalists living in this community. So I will continue to use my voice to clearly present the situation. Today, here’s what I see: The women of Lubero Territory are not seen or treated or valued as human beings. They are pieces of cloth that can be crumpled at anyone’s will.