Content warning: this story contains information about sexual violence, which may be distressing for some readers.

Newly widowed, Precious* was travelling back to her parent’s village with her young son when they were ambushed by rebel militia.

Dragged off the bus and taken hostage together with other women and children, Precious endured two days of physical abuse and degradation that can only be described as torture. The nightmare continued when her son was killed by the rebels. Then they attacked Precious, leaving her unconscious on the side of the road.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is known to be one of the most dangerous places in the world to be female. Years of violent unrest have forced millions to flee, with displaced women and girls at particular risk of sexual violence. In some areas, they account for half of all reported cases of rape, forced marriage and sex slavery.

Survivors of sexual violence in the DRC often have no one to turn to for help. Many displaced women and girls live in remote areas, unable to access medical or legal support, and forced to hide their suffering due to stigma and shame.

 

Precious was travelling with her young son when she was taken hostage and abused. © Australia for UNHCR

Fortunately for Precious, a passer-by found her and took her to a hospital in the Congolese city of Goma, where she stayed for months recovering from her injuries. On her release from hospital, she returned to her late husband’s family but her in-laws refused to let her into the house, making her sleep on a mat outside. “Like a dog,” she says.

With nowhere else to turn, Precious made her way to a refugee camp across the border in Uganda, where she was identified by UNHCR as an extremely vulnerable person and placed under their care.

As the lead global agency for helping survivors of conflict-related sexual violence, UNHCR’s care and recovery program helps women access immediate assistance following an assault, and feel supported as they rebuild their lives.

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Today, Precious is recovering in a special safe zone in Uganda’s sprawling Kyaka II refugee settlement. As well as receiving regular medical treatment and cash assistance to pay for essentials such as food, she has a small support group of refugee women she leans on for care and advice.

“I hope by sharing my story that more women and girls who have suffered rape can get more help and no longer feel ashamed that these things have been done to them,” Precious says.

With reports of sexual violence in the DRC doubling in just one year, UNHCR simply doesn’t have the resources to meet the overwhelming needs of survivors.

Without increased funding, many women will be left to cope alone with their injuries and trauma, trapped in remote locations and unable to access the urgent care and support they need.

* Name changed to protect privacy

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Displaced women and girls are at particular risk of sexual violence and in some areas of the DRC they account for half of all reported cases of rape, forced marriage and sex slavery. © UNHCR / S. Schulman

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