Masika Katsuva, mother of four daughters, was once the wife of a successful businessman. In 1999, Rwanda-backed militants broke into the family's home. The rebels tortured her husband to death and raped two of her daughters. Finally, they raped Katsuva on top of her husband's mutilated body. The rape was so savage that she had to undergo eight surgeries over the course of a year to repair delicate tissue. She now runs a combination halfway house and vegetable farm just outside Goma. It is a sanctuary for violated women that enables them to gather strength and self-respect through medical attention, faith, work and, most important, the company of others who share their horrific experiences.
Women and children watch Congolese National Army soldiers patrol their village of Bugeri in the South Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Although no one knows for sure how many in this country of 67 million are rape victims, the United Nations estimates that 200,000 women have been raped in the past decade and that 40 women a day are raped in South Kivu alone. Throughout the area, women are afraid to work in the fields or gather firewood from the jungle, even in a group. Women and girls have been carried away to be used as sex slaves by soldiers or forced to be "bush wives" for officers.
A rape survivor goes into labor in a dark room at "Mamma Masika" Katsuva's farm. She was abducted by soldiers and held in captivity as a sex slave for five months before escaping. She is about to have the baby of one of her rapists. Katsuva listens with a stethoscope to the moaning woman's belly, then leaves her alone. Mamma Masika says the farm has helped nearly 6,000 women since it opened in 2000. More women turn up at the farm every week, and some go into labor during the long journey.
A woman carrying bundles on her back and head passes young men standing along the road in Bukavu, Congo. In Congolese culture, women appear to do everything: work the fields, gather the firewood, keep the home, raise the children and cook the meals. Nevertheless, without men's support and respect, experts warn, the cycle of violence and abandonment will never be broken.
A woman walks past a sign warning against sexual violence in the North Kivu region of Congo. The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of Africa's largest countries, a lushly overgrown, underpopulated nation of approximately 67 million people living in a land about the size of Western Europe. Despite its beauty and fertility, Congo is ravaged by armed conflict and a resulting humanitarian crisis. An estimated 5 million people have died by violence or related hunger and disease since 1998, a figure that the International Rescue Committee says increases by 45,000 deaths every month. The U.N. relief agencies and nongovernmental organizations cannot keep track of the wounded, displaced and raped.
Police Maj. Honorine Munyole takes the statement of a 15-year-old girl who was summoned to the police station by officers who caught the young man she said raped her two weeks earlier. Munyole created the sexual violence unit in Bukavu and has expanded it to almost 30 officers — barely enough, she says. "Men will not stop raping women as long as they are almost sure to get away with it," Munyole says. "Right now, they know they will not be caught, and until the impunity has disappeared, there is nothing to stop them."
A 15-year-old rape victim, sits with Maj. Honorine Munyole, while Capt. Binginama Florimo, watches over the young man who is accused of raping her.
Capt. Binginama Florimo, takes the young man into custody who is accused of raping the 15-year-old girl on the left. Under new laws, he could draw 15 years in a Congolese prison. Or not. A mere $40 can sometimes erase a name from the docket. Gang-rape has replaced looting and pillaging as the chosen weapon of social terror because it is more effective in destroying families, villages and tribes. Worse, the practice is spreading among demobilized soldiers and civilian men.
Congolese National Army soldiers listen to sensitivity training sponsored by Women For Women International. On a rainy afternoon, 100 Congolese soldiers lined up in a shabby formation to participate in the army's new anti-rape exercise. The recruits slouched and fiddled, listening to an audiotape of soldiers boasting after a gang rape and then pressuring a reluctant enlisted man to take his turn. Although the drama was scripted, it made for chilling listening to assembled women's health advocates and soldiers' wives.
A soldier wanders a village outside the town of Bukavu in eastern Congo. The Congolese National Army harbors some of the worst sexual offenders within its ranks. A recent U.N. survey estimates soldiers are responsible for nearly one-third of all rapes and sexual violence committed in Congo's far eastern provinces. Military discipline is weak, the soldiers seldom get paid, and many are told by their superiors to "live off the land." Soldiers and militants act without conscience, in part because they know they will get away with their behavior. The de facto impunity flows from a weak and disinterested military, lack of legal infrastructure and an indifference to the plight of Congolese women.
Although this soldier is not accused of rape, a recent report by Human Rights Watch says that local civilians continue to suffer from widespread instances of rape by Congolese forces. Researchers say the number of rapes has doubled and in some places tripled across the region since military operations began in January 2009. As gang rape spreads among soldiers and civilian men as the weapon of social terror in Congo, what is more terrifying for women is that they cannot rely on the Congolese National Army to protect them.
Female patients help each other walk the grounds at Panzi Hospital in Bukavu in the South Kivu area of eastern Congo. The hospital was started by Dr. Denis Mukwege in 1999 to aid civilian war casualties, including the hundreds of thousands of women and girls who have been raped by Congolese soldiers or militiamen. Panzi does not charge for its services, and some women stay there for months, recuperating from surgery.
A nurse assists Dr. Nsimire Mushengezi while she examines a rape survivor at the Panzi Hospital. Only a handful of hospitals in the region can take on the challenge of repairing women who have been severely assaulted sexually. The damage to delicate tissues and organs is often extensive and complicated. Women and children, and sometimes men, have endured penetration with tree branches, sticks, bottles, rifle barrels, bullets, hot coals and anything else at hand.
A bucket filled with case histories of raped women sits in an admitting office at Panzi Hospital in Bukavu. Tens of thousands of women and children have been abducted and raped in eastern Congo in the past decade, victims of a crude and cruel effort to destroy rural communities by obliterating the hardest-working members of society.
Every horror story has a hero, and Dr. Denis Mukwege fits the roll. Dr. Mukwege walks with a patient at the Panzi Hospital. The soft-spoken obstetrician-gynecologist, is the founder of the Panzi Hospital, the first fistula center in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Bukavu facility treats victims and trains doctors to repair the torn tissue. Fistula sufferers may stay here for months, first getting strong enough for the surgery, and then spending weeks on a catheter to make sure they heal properly. Dr. Mukwege, who sometimes performs 10 fistula surgeries in a day, says he can identify rapists by the wounds they leave behind. "I can tell which group it was who did it, even before she tells me," he said."Some use knives, fire, [assault] only the young, a bullet. This way, it is like they leave a signature on the body."
Every horror story has a hero, and Dr. Denis Mukwege fits the roll. Dr. Mukwege, left performs fistula surgery on a rape survivor at the Panzi Hospital. The soft-spoken obstetrician-gynecologist, is the founder of the Panzi Hospital, the first fistula center in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Bukavu facility treats victims and trains doctors to repair the torn tissue. Fistula sufferers may stay here for months, first getting strong enough for the surgery, and then spending weeks on a catheter to make sure they heal properly. Dr. Mukwege, who sometimes performs 10 fistula surgeries in a day, says he can identify rapists by the wounds they leave behind. "I can tell which group it was who did it, even before she tells me," he said."Some use knives, fire, [assault] only the young, a bullet. This way, it is like they leave a signature on the body."
In the traumatic fistula ward at the HEAL Africa Hospital in Goma, a nurse dresses the wound of a rape patient while a student nurse watches. The young woman's injuries, the result of a gang rape, are so severe, doctor's have to go in through her abdomen to repair damage to her bladder, rectum and vagina.
Rape patients share a bed in a ward for rape survivors at HEAL Africa Hospital. HEAL Africa is a US based nongovernmental organization that provides spiritual, psychological and medical care for obstetric and traumatic fistulas in Congo. The surgical recovery rooms in the HEAL Africa compound are full. In some wards, women share a bed, foot-to-face.
A rape survivor receives counseling at the HEAL Africa hospital in Goma. She and two other women were brought to Goma from a transit center in the countryside. Scores of women and children gather at places of refuge like those run by HEAL Africa and Panzi Hospital. "Rape by one man is one thing, but seven, eight, nine, that's quite another," says Virginie Mumbere, an administrator at HEAL Africa. "It breaks your heart to see how many need so much help."
This young woman was raped when she was 14 years old and became pregnant with her son. "I was back at my home, and I was studying. I was a student and coming from school late at night when they raped me," she says, "I heard about HEAL Africa, and they told me I could learn how to sew until I can go back to school. She has spent three months in the traumatic fistula ward at HEAL Africa Hospital in the town of Goma in war-torn eastern Congo. Her days are spent caring for her child, sewing and trying to recover from her rape. The Christian charity HEAL Africa offers a full slate of services to women who have been sexually assaulted: surgery to repair rape-torn tissues, psychological and legal counseling, pastoral care, vegetable gardens to maintain, and a workshop that teaches sewing.
A young rape survivor with her son, wanders the grounds at the HEAL Africa Hospital in Goma. Unmarried and shunned, she is raising her son alone. In eastern Congo, women with male children born of rape face a very difficult time. Husbands sometimes accept a daughter, but never a son, who they fear might grow up to resume the war.