Aid Worker: Congo Rapes A Strategy To Force Exodus

Melissa Block speaks with Miel Hendrickson, regional coordinator for International Medical Corps in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Hendrickson's team has treated more than 200 women who were raped in rebel attacks a month ago. The area is known for its gold and mineral deposits, and attacks on villages in the area is frequent.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

U.N. peacekeepers in Congo are being accused of a slow response to reports that women were raped en masse in Eastern Congo one month ago. More and more women are emerging from hiding in the forest to report that they were gang raped by rebels in a mass assault. The number of women treated for rape now stands at 242. They range in age from 16 to 75.

Earlier, I reached Miel Hendrickson in Goma, in Eastern Congo. She's regional coordinator for International Medical Corps, which is treating the victims.

Ms. MIEL HENDRICKSON (Regional Coordinator, International Medical Corps): Most of the women said that they had been raped by men from -anywhere from two to six in number. And this was in the presence of their husbands and children watching while they were being raped, and that the perpetrators were sometimes using their hands as well, saying that they were searching for gold.

BLOCK: Searching for gold. This area is known as being mineral rich, rich in gold as well. They were using that as an excuse for the rapes.

Ms. HENDRICKSON: Yes, that is correct. This particular small pocket is one of those that has the most minerals that are used for powering electronics.

BLOCK: What kind of treatment are you able to offer these women? What sorts of injuries are you seeing?

Ms. HENDRICKSON: The injuries vary, depending quite a bit on the age of the woman - of the survivor - as well as the means that was used. We use a prophylaxis for treatment on prevention of HIV and sexually transmitted infections, as well as emergency contraception. However, in this case, because the fighting lasted so long and people were not able to respond and come to a health facility during the window of opportunity when you can use that treatment, most of the women did not actually receive the standard rape kit treatments that - is normally provided.

However, basically since the case, we've been treating and providing medications for management of sexually transmitted infections.

BLOCK: What about psychological counseling, Miel?

Ms. HENDRICKSON: Psychological counseling is both at the individual level as well as the community level because it's basically essential for the entire community to come together, particularly after an event of this kind and this scale. Because you have a specific number of survivors but you have a much larger - basically the entire community has been affected.

BLOCK: And as you mentioned, the rapes were carried out publicly in front of not just husbands, but also children.

Ms. HENDRICKSON: Yes, exactly. And the use of rape in Eastern Congo has been prevalent and documented for the last - more than a decade. And, you know, now we're seeing sort of the next generation who are affected by the abuses that they've seen.

BLOCK: Has International Medical Corps seen a mass rape on this scale, the numbers of women who were raped during these attacks?

Ms. HENDRICKSON: We've never experienced mass rapes of this magnitude. The issue, however, is that cases like this can often happen, but the actual confirmation and recorded cases - never takes place. So women may potentially be reporting but it's not all en masse, or they may not have anywhere to report to. So I would be shocked if it was the first of its kind in Eastern Congo. But it is one the first very well-documented cases of mass rape like this.

BLOCK: What is the village of Luvungi like now? How traumatized are the people who live there?

Ms. HENDRICKSON: Luvungi is definitely traumatized, and definitely a community in recovery. Unfortunately, it's not atypical of villages similar to it in Eastern Congo. In other areas adjacent to Luvungi, there have been massacres within the last year, as well as rebel groups basically menacing the area for more than a decade.

BLOCK: Miel Hendrickson, thank you very much.

Ms. HENDRICKSON: Thank you.

BLOCK: Miel Hendrickson is regional coordinator for International Medical Corps, speaking with us from Goma in Eastern Congo.

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