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Mass Rape in the Congo: A Crime Against Society

Mass rapes in the Congo are destroying civic life, as hundreds of thousands of rape victims are cast out from their families and communities.

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To help Fatuma's group fund itself, IRC bought them a field and trained these experienced cultivators in some advanced farming techniques. In their first season the women produced three tons of maize. IRC bought them two more fields and taught them how to organize their activities and keep useful records. The women set up an office on the main road next door to a base of the FARDC, the national army, and began to talk to the commander about what his own soldiers were doing. They began to visit the homes of outcast rape survivors to explain to husbands and mothers-in-law why they must take raped women back. (The young husband of Fatuma's daughter, who stands by her, is an influential example for men.) They visit the fathers of raped girls and persuade them not to "compromise" with rapists but to prosecute them. They publicly denounce known rapists and help take cases to court, calling rapists and jurists to account. In a province where the justice system is a shambles, CFK has seen a few cases through to convictions. Periodically a delegation travels to the prison to make sure the convicted men are still there. Some, of course, have "escaped."

At every step CFK runs up against old attitudes and new appetites for rape. Charlotte Siapata was tending her small field alone three years ago when two militiamen seized and raped her. Afraid to tell her husband, she turned to Fatuma for help. Fatuma sent her to the hospital and counseled her to stay in her home; and when her husband guessed the truth, Fatuma and others from CFK talked with him as well. Charlotte was now the "soldiers' wife," he said, and useless to him. He denied her money for food for herself and their two children. He refused to pay the children's fees, and they left school. He denied her clothing and shoes. He ordered her to leave the house. "After the rape," Charlotte says, "I could not greet anyone or pass before other people. I felt they could see my evil. Slowly I got over that because I learned from CFK that I was not the first. To be raped by gangs of men -- it is very normal for women. But still my husband chased me from the house and made me suffer. And the children too." At last Fatuma led a delegation from CFK and Charlotte's family to tell her husband that he had done enough; he must go to court, divorce her properly and allow her to take her children home to her parents' house. Charlotte says, "The power of CFK made him very afraid. He looked again and he could see me in a different way." Since then, the couple has reached an understanding and had another child. Charlotte believes that God worked through CFK to bring her back to life and restore her family happiness.

Now a strong leader in CFK, Charlotte helps with the cases of young girls raped in recent weeks not by militiamen but by civilians in the community. A 12-year-old raped by her teacher. A 9-year-old raped by a young boy. A 7-year-old raped by a middle-aged man. An 11-year-old raped by her father. A 7-year-old raped by her pastor. This is something new in the community since the war, and the women of CFK struggle to understand it.

CFK. If you pronounce the acronym in Congolese French with a slight Swahili accent, it sounds like Say-ev-ko--Save Co. Saving is what CFK does. It begins by saving rape survivors, but in effect it saves families, villages and the idea of civic life.

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