A woman is raped in the Democratic Republic of Congo nearly every minute and is 134 times more likely to be raped there than in the US, according to a new study which found rates 26 times higher than earlier estimates.
More than 400,000 women aged 15 to 49 were raped in a 12 month period, the researchers report in this month’s American Journal of Public Health.
That equates to more than 1,100 a day, or four women raped every five minutes.
“Previously, Congo’s sexual violence has been framed as women and children caught between two armed groups in eastern Congo,” said Lisa Shannon, founder of A Thousand Sisters, a human rights campaign group in the US.
“But these numbers show us that conflict in the east has produced a rape pandemic of astronomical proportions, but that that pandemic is not contained. We now know high levels of sexual violence exist even in non-conflict areas.”
Earlier studies, including one by the United Nations last year, suggested that 15,000 women were raped during the research period in 2006 and 2007.
The new report, led by Amber Peterman, looked at figures available from Congolese government files and other nationally representative data.
“Even these new, much higher figures still represent a conservative estimate of the true prevalence of sexual violence,” Ms Peterman said.
“[There is] chronic under-reporting due to stigma, shame, perceived impunity, and exclusion of younger and older age groups as well as men.” Sexual violence occurred in all of Congo’s provinces, the study showed.
A woman in certain parts of the Congo is 134 times more likely to be raped than a woman in the United States.
International aid agencies and the UN have been working in Congo since its last civil war ended in 2003, many focusing on sexual violence.
But the size of the country, and its complex web of problems, have made making headway difficult.
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