Bunia, DRC – Twenty-eight year old Carine* lives in Bunia, the capital of Ituri province in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
“I used to have nightmares, flashbacks and serious headaches all the time because of the rape,” she tells of the deep trauma she has been working to overcome with the help of Sofepadi, an NGO working with victims of sexual violence in the country.
Ethnic conflict and economic crises in this resource-rich region have claimed thousands of lives. A number of warlords from the DRC have been or are being tried by the International Criminal Court at The Hague.
Despite peacekeeping efforts, peace continues to be an elusive prospect, and fighters still kill, rape and loot throughout the countryside regularly.
Five years ago, Carine was one of their victims. Along with her husband and infant child, she was abducted while returning to Bunia from a visit to another village.
The fighters first took her husband away, leaving her alone with the baby. When they later returned, they offered her some food. “They were forcing me to eat, but I wouldn’t,” Carine remembers.
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“They insisted, so I gave some sauce to the baby, and then I started eating the meat. They started laughing and said: ‘Do you know that this is your husband’s flesh you’re eating?'” Carine recalls with horror. “I was paralysed with fear and disgust,” she says.
Over a one-month period, the five fighters repeatedly raped Carine. By chance, one day when her guards were distracted, she was able to run away. When she came out of the bush, she found that she was pregnant.
According to local health workers and aid organisations, victims of rape often despise the baby born of the violence inflicted upon them by the various sides in the local conflicts.
Abortion is illegal in DRC, and many desperate victims of rape are forced to carry their pregnancies to term or seek out illicit abortions performed in dangerous and sometimes lethal conditions.
Women who are raped also face discrimination and being ostracised by family and community. They are often rejected by their husbands and families, who blame them for the assault.