A new study by the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) has highlighted the horror or rape committed by soldiers against women in the war-torn eastern part of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The numbers are alarming.

Based on data gathered in 2007, more than 1,100 women are raped every day in the country, the study asserts, meaning that acts of sexual violence against women far worse than previously thought.

Put another way, 48 women were raped every hour.

During a 12-month period between 2006 and 2007, more than 400,000 women and girls between the ages of 15 to 49 were raped. That figure is 26 times greater than the rape statistics released by the United Nations for the same time period.

Our results confirm that previous estimates of rape and sexual violence are severe underestimates of the true prevalence of sexual violence occurring in the DRC, said Amber Peterman, lead author of the AJPH study.

Even these new, much higher figures still represent a conservative estimate of the true prevalence of sexual violence because of chronic underreporting due to stigma, shame, perceived impunity, and exclusion of younger and older age groups as well as men.”

The actual magnitude of sexual abuse in Congo may actually be even worse since the study did not evaluate violence against females outside of the 15-49 age group; nor does it assess violence against males.

Although the burden of sexual violence among these groups is uncertain, a review of the records of 4,133 women attending Panzi Hospital in Sud-Kivu [a town in eastern DRC] showed that six per cent were younger than 16 years and 10 per cent were older than 65 years, the study stated.

In addition, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that sexual violence in 2009 doubled in comparison with 2008. If this assessment is accurate, then the current prevalence of sexual violence is likely to be even higher than our estimates suggest.

Michael VanRooyen, director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, a human rights group, commented “Rape in the DRC... has emerged as one of the great human crises of our time”

Even more disturbing is the perception that rapes are spreading well outside the war-zone in the eastern part of the country, including the capital and provinces far from the fighting.

Lisa Shannon, founder of Run for Congo Women and A Thousand Sisters, told the Daily Beast: “I was overwhelmed [by the data], but I wasn’t shocked. We’ve known for a long time that the numbers coming out of Congo were vastly underreported.”

Congo has been immersed in a brutal civil war for the past 15 years – the conflict is believed to have cost more than 5-million lives.