"They called me a gift from God"

DR Congo
December 2015

Assignment for Oxfam Novib

Odette: “Two years ago, I was raped by FRDC soldiers. I was on my way to buy peanuts when they called me from the forest. At first, I trusted them because we spoke the same language. But then they said they had not been with a woman for a long time. They called me a gift from God. I begged them to take my money and let me go and I tried to fight them off. But they were too strong. After the first three raped me, the fourth one didn’t want me anymore. I was bleeding too much. They left me behind unconscious. Villagers brought me to a hospital nearby. But there they didn’t have any STD prevention medication or birth control pills. They just stitched me up and I was sent home after five days. When I told my husband, he chased me away. In the hospital here, I found out I was pregnant. My son is almost two years old. I still suffer from the mental and physical consequences. I feel like I am rotting inside.”

Until a few years ago, the staff in the health centre in the town of Kiroche, lacked the skills, knowledge and means to help women in need like Odette. But much has changed. With the help of Oxfam, the health centre has been refurbished and the staff has been trained in providing proper care to survivors of sexual violence. Pregnancy and HIV tests are carried out and the women receive antibiotics to prevent STDs.

Attention is not only given to the medical aspect of rape. Daniel Kitsa, who works as a nurse in the clinic, explains: “We also offer psychological support to survivors and we collect evidence. The clothes are carefully preserved and the doctor examining the women looks for signs of sexual violence. This way, important evidence is secured for when the rapist is caught and brought to justice. Unfortunately, we see our justice system is failing. Too often the rapist receives no punishment at all.”

“Therefore, prevention is an important part of our work too. Together with local authorities, who are very respected by the community, we look for ways to prevent rape. We see that the majority of women are raped for example when they go home after a day of working in the fields or when they go and fetch water. It happens when they are alone, so we try to emphasise the importance of a man being around to protect them.”

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