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

 

Josephine* was working in the fields near her village in Katanga province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) when a rebel soldier grabbed her and dragged her into the bush.

Forced into sexual slavery, Josephine, then aged 40, endured weeks of abuse. She told no one about her ordeal after her release, not even her husband. She was often in pain but too frightened to seek support or medical help.

“I am scared to tell my husband what happened. He doesn’t know anything. He knows that I have been kidnapped but he doesn’t know the details. If I explain it to him, he will ask for a divorce.”

Learning of Josephine’s ordeal, UNHCR immediately referred her for medical treatment and trauma counselling. But as her doctor says, “she is one of the luckier ones, many others will not get this support”.

Unprecedented levels of displacement, ongoing armed clashes and the unstable political environment have made the DRC one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be female. A report by the United Nations Population Fund found that cases of sexual violence in conflicted-affected provinces of the DRC more than doubled in just one year.

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. © UNHCR/ F. Noy

Survivors of rape in the DRC often have no one to turn to for help. Like Josephine, 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.

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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UNHCR Protection Associate in Ituri province, Nathalie Dzaringa, says conflict-related sexual violence is an issue with huge needs.

“Due to the vastness of the DRC and the inaccessibility of many areas, many sexual and gender-based violence cases are not known or don’t receive assistance.

UNHCR is the lead global agency for helping survivors of conflict-related sexual violence. © Australia for UNHCR

“Households end up disintegrating because of sexual violence, and there are cases where children become homeless… [some] women who get pregnant following rapes attempt to abort on their own, putting their lives at risk, and families who were already vulnerable end up even more financially unstable,” says Nathalie. 

“Additional donations will enable us to enlarge our prevention activities to zones that aren’t currently covered.

“We are constantly learning and adapting our sexual violence response strategy to different realities on the ground, but additional funds will help us to be more predictable in our immediate and long-term support to survivors.”

Every survivor of sexual violence has the right to seek protection. With UNHCR’s operations in the DRC critically underfunded, your support will mean survivors are cared for and feel safe.  

* Name changed to protect privacy

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sexual violence recover and rebuild their lives.
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With UNHCR’s operations in the DRC critically underfunded, more help is urgently needed. © UNHCR/ F. Noy 

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