More than 100 women say they were raped in a town in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) during a ruthless attack by militia earlier this month. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) teams have treated 127 Congolese women between the ages of 14 and 70 in Kikamba who were victims of sexual assault after about 60 armed men attacked the town in South Kivu on May 1, the humanitarian medical organization said Thursday.
“Large-scale sexual assaults linked to armed groups are, unfortunately, not exceptional within the DRC context,” Francisco Otero, MSF head of mission in South Kivu, said in a statement. The militiamen also looted homes, assaulted men and took some 30 children as prisoners to carry stolen goods and later freed them, MSF said. Rape and pillage often go hand in hand, according to a report by the Wilson Center’s Africa Program, a think tank in Washington, D.C.
“The attackers appear to be fully aware of women’s productive and reproductive capacities and how they can benefit from them,” the report said. “Rape is therefore no longer just an act of social violence it has become an act of economic violence.”
Some residents fled into the nearby forest during the attack and two people suffered gunshot wounds in clashes with the militiamen. At first, a group of several women in the town reported being raped by the attackers. That number grew past a hundred in the days that followed.
“Many victims came forward very quickly, looking for medical assistance,” Otero said in a statement Thursday. “This is not the norm, as victims usually don’t report this type of aggression for fear of retaliation by armed groups or rejection by their own community.”
Sexual violence against women and girls surged in South Kivu when Rwanda and Uganda invaded the eastern DRC in 1996 to root out remaining perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide hiding there. Despite a peace agreement between 22 armed groups in 2008, fighting between multiple armed groups has continued and so has terrorizing civilians. The report by the Wilson Center found that all sides in the conflict have participated in sexual violence in South Kivu. A vast majority of sexual assault victims were subject to gang rape and many were accompanied by torture, the report said.