The Congo We Listen To : Rough Translation It made headlines worldwide: Hundreds of women raped in one Congolese village. But when one researcher arrives in town, something feels off. (Note: This episode contains descriptions of violence.)

The Congo We Listen To

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I'm going to tell you a story about a remote village where something really awful happened. We're going to ask some questions about that event. But we're also going to look at how the questions that we ask in a foreign place can change the answers.

JUSTIN CHIKURU: The expectations of the one who's coming to ask the questions - that expectations can alter the story.

WARNER: I'm Gregory Warner. This is ROUGH TRANSLATION. We're a show that follows how something we're talking about is being talked about somewhere else in the world. Today, the place we're going doesn't get much attention from the West. When it does, it's often for one thing - rape.

This is a sensitive topic. Some things may be upsetting. If you're listening with kids, you may want to save this episode for later.

Our story is about how people in rich countries talk about rape in Congo and how people there are talking back.

Our story begins with two motorcycle taxis headed through the forest in the Democratic Republic of Congo. On the lead bike is Laura Heaton, who was then a researcher for an NGO.

LAURA HEATON: OK. Shall I? I was traveling in this remote part of eastern Congo with my Congolese colleague...

WARNER: His name's Christian. He's on the other bike.

HEATON: ...Also a researcher for the group that I was a consultant with. And we just happened to be doing this research in the same region where this absolutely horrifying attack had taken place eight months before.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: More and more women are emerging from hiding in the forest to report that they were gang-raped by rebels in a mass assault.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Three hundred armed men arrived in Luvungi.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: A renegade Rwandan militia.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Occupy the Congolese town of Luvungi.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: A village of 2,000 people.

HEATON: This attack happened in August 2010.

WARNER: In a small village called Luvungi. And over the course of four days...


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Unacceptable brutalization of the population.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Gang-raping more than 150.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Raped more than 200 women and girls.

HEATON: The numbers - they were rising, rising, rising.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: The number of women now stands at 242.

WARNER: The number's finally settled, according to the official U.N. report, at 387 rape survivors.

HEATON: It was the largest case of mass rape ever reported in eastern Congo. This is an incident that placed Congo on the map, I think, even for Americans who hadn't really heard much about this conflict.

WARNER: What Laura wondered reading this story was, what happened next?

HEATON: Was the community in a better place now? What had happened with all of these women?

WARNER: Did the international spotlight make any difference?

HEATON: There was this report in Paris Match, a magazine that was, like, all of these glossy pictures of these women looking totally depressed and sad and these children standing next them. And the headline was "The Raped Women Of Luvungi."

WARNER: Laura would stare at this photo, into the eyes of these women, and, behind them, the thatched huts of their village. She'd scanned the news for follow-up stories about Luvungi but didn't find any.

HEATON: And so we decided to go out there. We had time. We were relatively close. It was about an hour and a half to two-hour motorbike ride out of town. And you kind of trace your way up one side of the mountain. And you start zigzagging your way back down. The drivers kill the engine to conserve fuel, so you're just coasting down this mountain trail that is incredibly green. It's purples and blues and dark green. And your phone doesn't work anymore. You pretty suddenly feel isolated. It was just Christian on one bike and me on another.

CHRISTIAN KILUNDU: In a very risky road, where nobody was passing.

WARNER: This is Christian - Christian Kilundo (ph).

KILUNDU: And any time, you could be ambushed by rebels. But she was not afraid.

HEATON: You get to Luvungi, and it's, like, the market town in the area. As soon as we arrive, we're ushered into a hut with a thatched roof to sit with the village elders.

WARNER: And Laura had tons of questions. How was the village doing now?

HEATON: What sort of response came and sort of how the community is coping.

WARNER: But the elders ignore her questions. They simply say they've lined up women to tell again the story of the mass rape.

HEATON: We're getting them ready to speak to you. And we said, well, that's OK. We don't, in fact, need to do some sort of detailed interview with raped women. And they were like, well, we've already made the arrangement. And there are these three women. You know, you absolutely should talk to them.

WARNER: So she and Christian are led out of the hut.

KILUNDU: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I remember. I remember that time.

WARNER: And they cross the street to another hut...

KILUNDU: We are seated in the baraza.

WARNER: ...Called the baraza.

KILUNDU: You know, it's just a traditional place where people all sit.

HEATON: There were some bench types of things.

WARNER: It's all set up for this kind of interview.

HEATON: They brought in one woman.

KILUNDU: We started interviewing.

WARNER: Laura pulls out her notebook.

HEATON: It was a very strange experience because we didn't ask a whole lot of questions. But we were getting all of this detail. Like, I remember she said where men were putting their hands. She said, they kept putting their hands up into my stomach. But she said - it was such a - there was just, like, a weird emotional connection that was sort of missing.

WARNER: So that interview ends. Another woman is escorted in. Laura turns to a fresh page in her notebook. And this time she doesn't even get to ask a question. The woman just starts right into her rape story faster than Christian can translate.

HEATON: I kind of thought, most likely what it is is because these women have just told this story so many times, they're really desensitized to it.

WARNER: And when that woman's finished, and a third interview starts, and the same thing happens, Laura starts noticing in herself the very last thing that she expected to feel when she arrived here. It was...

HEATON: Doubt.

WARNER: ...Doubt.

HEATON: Something is amiss. It felt so insensitive and so confusing that I maybe would've just left it.

WARNER: Insensitive to whom?

HEATON: To the women - to somehow suggest that I didn't believe that story. And I was talking to my colleague, like, once we were away from the elders and away from the women. I just said something like, that was a strange experience.

WARNER: Christian looks at her. He does not look confused or hesitant or awkward.

HEATON: He was furious.

KILUNDU: I thought that these women were trying to lie to us, you know?

HEATON: He thought they were lying, that they had not actually been raped. And he, being Congolese, I think, felt like he could ask these questions that I don't know that I would've ventured to ask.

WARNER: That night, back in the guest house in the main town, it's Christian who suggests that they might want to talk to the hotel proprietor.

HEATON: His name is Father Pascal (ph).

WARNER: He is actually a Catholic priest. The guesthouse is on the compound of the Catholic church. He's Congolese. He's from the area. He knows everybody.

HEATON: So we went into Father Pascal's office. And he has a really round belly and this T-shirt with a faded picture of the Virgin Mary on it and a big cross.

WARNER: And so Laura tells the priest...

HEATON: We had a very strange experience in Luvungi today. And this priest was like, well, that's because the situation is not at all the way that it was reported. And that's when he started telling us very matter-of-factly that the story had been massively exaggerated.

WARNER: And do you remember what he said? Did he say it was massively exaggerated? Or was he - I mean, how did he say it?

HEATON: He started talking about the theater right from the beginning. It's, like, what you do when you're in theater, and you need to convince someone of your character. And you put on an act because the white people wanted to meet the raped women.

WARNER: Western aid workers and journalists were focused on this huge crisis across eastern Congo.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: Sexual violence as a weapon of war.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Weapon of rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

WARNER: Armed groups of rebels, as well as Congolese soldiers, were terrorizing whole villages.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: It is a country that's been dubbed the rape capital of the world.

WARNER: Mass rape was a battlefield strategy.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the U.S. is committed to ending rape.

HEATON: The fact that Secretary of State Clinton wanted to come to eastern Congo because rape was being used as a weapon of war.


HILLARY CLINTON: The United States condemns these attacks and all those who commit them and abet them.

HEATON: That was bringing a lot of attention to Congo.

WARNER: And this attack in Luvungi, the largest mass rape on record on record, had brought foreign journalists and aid workers and a team of sexual violence experts from the U.N. - all coming to stay here in Father Pascal's guesthouse.

HEATON: I said to him, like, all of these people have been coming and saying in your guesthouse. So why did you not share this perspective? - and with them. And he said, no one asked me. And, frankly, look at my situation here. Like, we have the nicest guesthouse in town. I have a land cruiser. My truck has been rented. My rooms have been full. No one asked me.

WARNER: Laura follows her doubt and discovers a secret code when ROUGH TRANSLATION returns.


WARNER: We're back with ROUGH TRANSLATION. It took a couple of months, but Laura and Christian finally tracked down the first health worker to respond to the attack. He's a 23-year-old government nurse. He runs a health outpost five miles from Luvungi.

HEATON: When we first sat down in the office with him, initially, he gives me the sense that, you know, it was this terrible attack along the same lines of the story that had been reported. And the door was open. And so I was sitting next to the door, actually. So I reached over and closed it. And I said, OK, I just want to tell you, like, we're just starting to look into this. But we've heard that some of the numbers of the rape victims may not be accurate. He really perked up then.

WARNER: He told her that during the attack and in the days afterward, he saw about a hundred patients, mostly for malaria and diarrhea. The attack had scattered the villagers. They had to live in the bush for days, drinking dirty water. But six women reported rape.

HEATON: Two of them attacked by civilians, four by rebels.

WARNER: And those six cases stayed on the books until a new team of medical workers arrived.

HEATON: These other medical workers were taking over the treatment of patients.

WARNER: These workers were sent by International Medical Corps. It's an NGO based in Los Angeles. And they counted 179 rape survivors. But then more people came forward. And they had to up that tally to 242. And those doctors alerted the U.N., who sent a special team of human rights workers.

HEATON: That's when the number came up to 387. Here's this attack that happened. And the range of that number varies from six to 387. Like, why is that?

WARNER: Why is that? Well, the aid agency that counted those numbers had an explanation - fear. The only way for those women to report a rape to that local clinic would've been to walk five miles through an unguarded forest.

MICAH WILLIAMS: We understood that people were afraid to walk through the forest.

WARNER: This is Micah Williams. She was in charge of the aid response.

WILLIAMS: I'm the senior gender-based violence advisor with International Medical Corps.

WARNER: When Micah's team arrived of two doctors, three nurses, midwives...

WILLIAMS: We started transporting people.

WARNER: That's when patients really started showing up.

WILLIAMS: In very large numbers, yeah. We were receiving such a large volume of cases, we had to develop makeshift facilities just to respond.

WARNER: Did anybody feel at the time that the numbers - something was fishy about these numbers?


WARNER: Like they were too high?

WILLIAMS: No. It was an example to us of just how salient a feature of this conflict rape was.

WARNER: I just want to make sure. Would you have been - checked - I mean, you know, would you go ahead and test these stories or ask for further proof? I mean, you know, it seems like something that would not...

WILLIAMS: Absolutely not. Absolutely inappropriate because it's - that's the role of police and the judiciary. I don't see a discrepancy in numbers. I never have.

WARNER: Why is that?

WILLIAMS: The great incentives that women have not to report, how stigmatized the issue of rape remains for survivors, how they're often isolated from communities, shunned from their families, abandoned by their partners. I think it would take a lot more to incentivize most people to make a false claim of rape.

WARNER: I used to be based in East Africa as the correspondent for NPR. And I've been going to Congo since 2008. So I called up a fixture I've worked with a lot in Congo over the years. And I asked him, had he heard of women lying about this not just in the Luvungi but anywhere in Congo? And if so, could I try to talk to someone who had?


WARNER: This is my fixer, Ferdinand Bengay Luendo. He said it was the hardest assignment ever given him.

LUENDO: I passed through five, six places.

WARNER: Women would ask him, why would I want to saw off the branch I'm sitting on?

LUENDO: That they couldn't saw the branch on which they are sitting.

WARNER: Why would I want to tell a Western journalist about lying?

LUENDO: Do you think that you can say it?

WARNER: Finally, he did find one woman willing to meet me.

LUENDO: Provided that the story is kept secret.

WARNER: As long as I didn't use her last name.

Okay, great. If you're comfortable, then tell me a little bit about yourself, who you are.

DEBORAH: My name is Deborah (ph).

WARNER: Deborah?

Deborah is 21. She wears a red shawl, black skirt, flip flops.

DEBORAH: (Through interpreter) I have come here to say my story and defend myself.

WARNER: Deborah grew up near a town called Minova. When she was small, she'd go into the forest to collect firewood. And her mother would give her the same warning every time.

DEBORAH: (Foreign language spoken).

WARNER: The warning was a girl who's been raped can never be married because a raped woman has no value in Congo.

DEBORAH: (Through interpreter) Especially the women. They would laugh when a woman is passing, saying that she's now worthless this, and she has a disease.

WARNER: Back when she was a kid, and her mother was telling her to watch out, the world was not paying much attention to rape in Congo. But that changed. And by the time that Deborah was a teenager, she says that aid agencies were regularly showing up in her town with money and food for rape victims. And she felt jealous.

DEBORAH: (Through interpreter) Others were being fed. And we would be sleeping hungry.

WARNER: When Deborah was 16, she says, her father died in a construction accident. And she and her older sister had to support their younger brothers with the money they earned washing clothes. So one morning, she's washing clothes and some women from a neighboring village come to Deborah's house. And they tell her, you see that tent there where that charity's handing out food?

DEBORAH: (Through interpreted) Just come and say you were raped. You will be supported.

WARNER: Deborah was terrified. So she prayed to God. And then she put on her oldest clothes, took off her shoes. And, barefoot, she got in line. She says her questioners were black people and white people.

DEBORAH: (Through interpreter) They asked me my story, and I told them I had been raped by three armed men.

WARNER: She told them it happened while she was collecting firewood, like her mother always warned her. She was checked for HIV, given a bag of rice, a bag of peas and a jerry can full of oil for cooking. Later, she'd be given the equivalent of $50. She'd use it to start a vegetable stand. But that day she remembers, as she and her sister are bringing the goods home, they're approaching the house. And her brothers race out of the house, dancing.

DEBORAH: (Foreign language spoken).

WARNER: Deborah and her sister start boiling the rice, cooking the peas. And this should've been the moment of victory. They'd gotten the goods. But as the smell of the food wafted into the house, the more sick she felt.

DEBORAH: (Through interpreter) Yes, I was feeling very sad. We did not even have appetites food because we did not feel we were entitled to eat. I have stolen. I am a thief.

WARNER: At this point in the interview, it had started to rain, and we moved our chairs into a drier place. And we paused, hoping the rain would stop. I also paused to give Deborah a break. She looked crestfallen and totally sad. I figured she still felt guilty about lying to the NGOs. As we started talking again, it turned out that was not what Deborah felt guilty about. It wasn't telling the lie that made her lose her appetite. It was that she felt that other women - real raped women - deserved that food more because they were still shamed while her neighbors knew that Deborah was just telling a story.

DEBORAH: (Through interpreter) People around me - they knew the story was not true. They knew I did this because life was hard. And they were pitying me.

WARNER: Wait. They pitied you, but they laughed at the real rape victim.

DEBORAH: (Through interpreter) Yes.

KILUNDU: I've seen this before. I've seen this before.

WARNER: Christian, Laura's colleague, who felt certain that the women in Luvungi were lying.

KILUNDU: I've been working with the humanitarians. So they know what happened, and they know how reports are done.

WARNER: He has worn many hats in Congo. He's been a PR guy for soldiers, a fixer for journalists, a researcher, a businessman. But it was his years as a humanitarian aid worker that taught him an odd local phrase.

KILUNDU: We call it in French fonds de commerce.

WARNER: Fonds de commerce - it means stock in trade or business. But in Congo, it's taken on a specific local meaning.

DOROTHEA HILHORST: Yeah. Fonds de commerce - it's a sort of business. Well, it's a business about how people adapt to the fact that the international community only wants to hear stories about sexual violence. My name is Dorothea Hilhorst. I'm a professor of humanitarian aid and reconstruction at Erasmus University in Rotterdam. And my research in Congo started in 2011, when there were so many programs for sexually violated women, it was almost impossible for a woman to engage in a program without sort of hinting at the fact that she was sexually violated.

WARNER: Laura also was hearing about this reverse incentive.

DEBORAH: People know that if you were - if you say that you are a victim of rape, you have a lot of services at your disposal.

HILHORST: Microcredit, agriculture.

HEATON: Vocational training, farm equipment, seeds.

HILHORST: All these things that are really, really needed in a very poor country.

HEATON: School fees, community savings, programs, things like this.

HILHORST: All the local NGOs, no matter what they did, felt that's the only way that we can now attract funding from international donors.

WARNER: And, sometimes, NGOs discovered that there weren't enough rape survivors to enroll in a program. And they had to keep their numbers up to apply for foreign aid. So NGOs would hire local Congolese to find them more stories, more names.

HILHORST: NGOs would have what they call antennas in local villages. And they would actually pay women according to the number of candidates for programs they could bring to the table.

KILUNDU: Myself - I've worked in NGOs. So I know what I'm talking about (laughter). I know what I'm talking about.

KILUNDU: Wait. Have you done that?

KILUNDU: Yes. I've done this, so that's why I know that this happens.

WARNER: Wow. So how does it work? How did you do it?

KILUNDU: The donor says that this is what I know, you know? He gives you his conditions.

WARNER: Your bosses would say, we want you to interview, like, a hundred rape victims?

KILUNDU: Yeah (laughter). They're very easy to get. Yes. If you want a hundred raped women, I'll get them.

WARNER: Christian says he never told women to lie. He didn't really have to.

KILUNDU: They know the code.

WARNER: What do you mean, the code? The code?

KILUNDU: (Laughter) Yeah, it's a code.

WARNER: And this code was so clearly understood that all Christian would have to do is go to a village in his aid agency T-shirt and tell the village elders how many rape survivors they needed that day.

KILUNDU: We want this number of people to say that they have been victims of rape. And then in return, we shall bring assistance for your community. They would come.

WARNER: So did you feel like you were telling a lie, or did you feel like you were helping the poor?

KILUNDU: For me, at that time, I knew that I was helping the poor. And it's exactly what happened in Luvungi. Or was it? When ROUGH TRANLSATION returns, Laura and Christian prepare a second trip to Luvungi to try to figure out exactly what happened. And Laura has to make a hard choice.

HEATON: If they've decided that the calculation works in their interest to tell these stories, like, who am I to question their truth?


WARNER: I'm Gregory Warner, and this is ROUGH TRANSLATION. As Laura dug into the story, she got a lot of help from Congolese human rights activists.

HEATON: I would say it was because of them that we were able to talk in a more forthright way with people.

WARNER: And when she and Christian returned to Luvungi, they stayed overnight in a villager's home.

HEATON: Christian and I were both sleeping in the living room of this person's house. And this woman, who is the stepmother of one of the activists, came over to him after everyone had gone to bed. And she sat next to the little couch where he was sleeping and sat there for a while with him, whispering in Kiswahili. If there was ever a moment in the time that we were spending in this village where she could speak to us privately, this was it.

She had said there was this major attack in the village. People lost everything. There were some people who were raped. She said that she was one of them. And she said the elders really decided that it was better to say that everyone was raped because there were people like her who would have become the target of all of this attention, whereas, instead, it took some of the pressure away from her.

WARNER: The stigma?

HEATON: Yeah, some of - It absolutely took the stigma away, yeah.

WARNER: I guess I'm wondering, did you also feel that? Like, did you also feel like not only - I shouldn't touch this story because, I mean, maybe I got something wrong culturally. But, like, I shouldn't try to find out the truth because the truth isn't going to help anybody.

HEATON: That was certainly the - the calculation I was constantly mulling over in my mind was, why am I doing this? And I think, particularly with the story of mass rape, the reason that the narrative works and that people were sort of frankly exploiting it is because the issue of mass rape happening is true. There are plenty of cases where it's true.

WARNER: Laura thought a lot of times about dropping this investigation. But then she would think, why should telling a rape story have to be the price that a woman paid to get help or food?

HEATON: Is there not a better way of allocating services to people that doesn't require them to tell a fictitious, gruesome story?

WARNER: Laura's article about Luvungi comes out in the magazine Foreign Policy.

HEATON: And plenty of bloggers and commenters picked me apart, said, who is she to interpret a woman's reaction and say that she wasn't raped?

WARNER: Who was she?

HEATON: Who was she?

WARNER: This outsider.

HEATON: A very young American...

WARNER: American.

HEATON: ...Again...

WARNER: White.

HEATON: ...Reporter. I just looked her up and read her background.

WARNER: Who is she...

HEATON: ...To say with any assurance how a rape survivor would react? What is appropriate? No, she can't. And neither can you.

WARNER: Then Laura got an email from Eve Ensler, playwright, author of "The Vagina Monologues" but also founder of a recovery center in eastern Congo called the City of Joy.

HEATON: I had sent her the piece because she is a very influential voice working in this space in Congo.

WARNER: Do you have the email? No, you don't have the...


WARNER: Oh, you do?

Laura pulls out her phone, scrolls down to the email.

HEATON: She says (reading), Laura, if this is the full piece, I have just read it. Honestly, I am baffled by it and very disturbed. Many of us have worked insanely hard. And believe me, it has been insanely hard not only to get anyone to care about raped women in Congo but to give money to help them heal and become autonomous.

WARNER: Funders, Eve writes, are like shoppers. They're fickle and change brands in an instant, particularly if they feel something might be wrong and someone is lying. You have introduced a problem. And now they will start to doubt. At the end of the email, she talks about the women of Congo.

HEATON: (Reading) Really, without the women of Congo, there is no future of Congo.

WARNER: And then finally...

HEATON: (Reading) As for the rape incentive problem, I have spent six years in Congo. I have listened to thousands of stories. Maybe in that group, there were a couple of times I was hard pressed to believe the story. But the particular woman talking was a despaired woman in every case, traumatized, hungry, expelled, alone, et cetera, and happy we got to support her. Best, Eve.

I cried.

WARNER: You cried.

HEATON: I cried. I did. Not - I was so conflicted. I mean, she voiced the same questions that I was always asking myself about, why look into this more? I believe, too, that women are, like, the future of Congo. And I do believe they work the hardest. And they are the - they, like, keep the community together. And if they've decided that the calculation works in their interests to tell these stories, like, who am I to then question their truth? It was hard to read.

WARNER: We reached out to Eve Ensler a couple of times. Her spokesperson said that she was traveling and too busy to talk. But her email does pose this basic question. How much does the truth matter?

Every expert that Laura and I interviewed for this story said that rape is a real problem in Congo. You remember Deborah, the woman who, at 16 years old, told a false story to feed her family, then felt so sick about it she couldn't eat the food. Well, the story doesn't end there. After the aid agency had handed out the money and the bags of food to Deborah and the other women, the women themselves got together.

DEBORAH: (Through interpreter) We formed a committee to check on those who had been helped and those who had not been helped. We would discover that this one is telling the truth, and this one is lying. Those who were raped remained in shame, so we would give them more of the food.

WARNER: Each woman who had not been raped ladled an extra portion of rice and peas into the open sacks of the real raped women.

DEBORAH: (Through interpreter) Because it was their right.

WARNER: So for Deborah, there's one way of talking to the West, another way of talking to the neighbors. What was the reason for Laura to expose this? What if, as Eve Ensler warned, donors just cut off the money? I talked to professor Hilhorst, who wrote about the fonds de commerce. She returned to Congo a few years later to find out what had been the impact of her research and of Laura's article. What she discovered was that rape as a weapon of war - that story, that narrative - it is still the story that is used at international aid conferences to raise money for Congo. What has changed is what the aid agencies do with that money. They're addressing a wider range of issues that face women, not just sexual violence.

HILHORST: Now we see approaches have changed a little bit away from the individual rape survivor to more community-based approaches. So you don't need those names and numbers of women who have been raped.

WARNER: The NGOs are no longer contracting antennas to find as many rape stories as they can. These are the changes that Laura had hoped for when she wrote her article. But professor Hilhorst has also noted something else that's worrisome that's among local Congolese. There's this widespread feeling that the act of hearing a rape story told publicly must mean it's not true.

KILUNDU: That one who had never been raped - she's taken into doubt. She can even speak out on TV, you know...

WARNER: Even Christian, when he hears a woman talking confidently about her survival after rape...

KILUNDU: Like strong women in the community.

WARNER: ...He assumes she must be pulling a con.

KILUNDU: Yes. For me, that's - I can think that she's not the real victim on that.

WARNER: I didn't know what to say when Christian said this.

But do you believe that somebody - can they - can a person have been raped but also still be strong?

KILUNDU: I think maybe this can happen for some people. But I doubt.

WARNER: This kind of doubt - the doubt of husbands and local journalists and Congolese politicians - this may be the most unsettling consequence of turning rape stories into currency. Not that this incentive might sometimes lead to false stories - but that the real stories lose their value. And there are some people who are trying to change this. Before we go, I want you to meet someone who is trying in a small way to give these stories back the value of truth right after this break.


WARNER: OK, so back with ROUGH TRANSLATION. When rape stories become a currency to trade with the West, it can change how local people hear these stories. This is Justin.

CHIKURU: My name is Justin Chikuru. I'm a clinical psychologist.

WARNER: He works at Panzi Hospital. It's a top research hospital in eastern Congo.

CHIKURU: Talking about rape - it is tricky because expectations - am I supposed to trust you? Am I supposed to lie? Am I supposed to tell the truth? Why do you need my story? What am I going to get? get.

WARNER: They said that directly?

CHIKURU: Yeah. Am I getting anything? It's like the story would be sold.

WARNER: When a woman named Nvinto Ngikima came to see Justin for the first time, the idea of telling her story just to tell it - it seemed weird.

NVINTO NGIKIMA: (Through interpreter) Talking was difficult for all of us.

WARNER: She and the other women would sit down and start to try to tell their stories. And then...

NGIKIMA: (Through interpreter) When the person tries to tell the hard part of the story, she starts to cry. She cannot continue telling the story.

WARNER: So Justin runs these group therapy sessions at Panzi Hospital. About 40 women come in, arrange the chairs in a circle. There's a musician here. His name's Jojo.

JOJO: Jojo.


WARNER: He starts the thing off with a hand-clapping exercise to build trust. And then they sing some songs. And then, finally, Justin, the therapist gets up.


WARNER: He's wearing a leather jacket. And he tells them, no one who tells a story here today will get any money for your story. No one will get food. He always gives this disclaimer.

CHIKURU: Don't expect this. Don't expect this. Don't expect this. What I want to you is to tell me the truth.

WARNER: And then Justin gives them instructions. So Jojo, the musician over there, will play a beat. And they should think of the words coming into their heart. It's basically music therapy, except with a twist because over the next five weeks, the women will work with Jojo, that musician in the corner, to weave these stories into a song that they'll sing and record on a CD and send out to Congolese radio stations.

JOJO: (Foreign language spoken).

WARNER: Nvinto Ngikima says, yeah. She actually wants her ex-husband to hear that song.

NGIKIMA: (Through interpreter) I wish that the songs we are singing here goes to the community and touch first men.

JOJO: (Foreign language spoken). OK.

WARNER: OK. So the first step is the women have to tell their stories. And that's hard. One woman starts to volunteer a story about how her two children died, but then she breaks down. She can't continue. Everyone's sad. They take a break. Then it's back to telling stories. Now Jojo, the musician, comes in. He's playing this beat on the keyboard. That's the beat.

JOJO: (Playing keyboard).

WARNER: Not every group that Justin leads is focused on sexual violence. But in this particular group, many of the women have come directly from the hospital, where they were treated for injuries related to rape. It takes almost an hour for any stories to come out. But then they do hit a flow. You can hear it.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #5: (Foreign language spoken).

WARNER: One by one they are telling their stories.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #5: Until today, whenever I see a man in camouflage uniform, I tremble with fear, and my heart beats fast.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #6: (Through interpreter) I see myself of no love because I have been tainted.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #7: (Through interpreter) Will I ever get someone else to love me?

WARNER: What's really surprising looking around this room is what's not here. There's no names. There's no rewards. There's no elders or antennas saying how this story should be told. There's no aid agency that's putting people on a list. And there's no fonds de commerce, no incentive system. It's just women getting together, saying what's on their mind, trying to get those stories heard on Congolese radio. You remember Nvinto Ngikima? She's the client who told me that before, when women would reach the hard part of the story, they'd start to cry and stop talking?

NGIKIMA: (Foreign language spoken).

WARNER: Now, she says, it's easier.

NGIKIMA: (Through interpreter) We have different stories, but now it becomes one story. So it gives us power.

WARNER: So now if you turn on your car radio in Bukavu, you can hear Congolese women singing about what happened to them.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in foreign language).

WARNER: She's singing, if you see me, you'd see a woman who's smiling. But you wouldn't know that my heart's in pieces. My dreams are broken. In my world, I'm nothing but a means to do harm.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in foreign language).

WARNER: This episode was edited by Marianne McCune and produced by me and Nick Fountain. Jess Jiang produces ROUGH TRANSLATION. Special thanks to Michael May, who helped report. Also thank you to Vikki Valentine, Anne Gudenkauf, Soren Wheeler, Andy Mills, Simon Adler, Jad Abumrad, Mooj Zadie, Caitlin Pierce, Charles Maynes, Carrie Thompson (ph), Galen Koch and Nicholas Dupre (ph). This episode was fact-checked by Brin Winterbottom and Mary Glendinning, mastered by Andy Huether. Our steering committee is Neal Carruth, Alex Goldmark, Mathilde Piard and Anya Grundmann. If you want to know more about that song the women were singing at Panzi Hospital, they have a whole album. We have a link on our Facebook page. Find more episodes at You can leave us a review to help people discover the show. Write us on Twitter @Roughly. I'm @radiogrego. Our theme was composed by John Ellis, additional music by Blue Dot, scoring by Marianne McCune. I'm Gregory Warner, back next week with more ROUGH TRANSLATION.


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