From Tracie: Rape - It Still Happens (even in Africa)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Rape - It Still Happens (even in Africa)

I read the news yesterday. Rwandan and Congolese rebels gang-raped nearly 200 women and some baby boys over four days within miles of a U.N. peacekeepers' base in an eastern Congo mining district. I was talking to my friend, Debra, at the time. After reading the article, Debra said, "I didn't think they were still raping people over there like that. I thought that had stopped."  That statement surprised me. She thought it had stopped?  

As I debated whether or not I was going to write about this on my blog, I couldn't get Debra, and what she had said, out of my mind. It occurred to me that I live in a different world than Debra. She works full time, doesn't catch much news, and is unaware of things not happening in the immediate circle of her world. That is true of most of us. The difference between me and Debra is what happens in the circle of my world. 

Being a survivor of sexual abuse, speaking out about my story and doing activist work, has changed my life. I hear stories of abuse and rape almost every day. I don't have to look hard for these stories, they come to me: in emails from survivors, people who have a sex offender move into their neighborhood and are wondering what can be done, parents who discover that their child has been sexually abused by a family member or friend, the list goes on and on. I also get emails about news stories. The circle of my world is filled with these things. Debra reminded me that this is not true for everyone out there, and that is okay.  No one can be focused on every issue. People have different passions. 

This is my passion, to end the stigma and silence that surrounds sexual violence. To see survivors of abuse and rape heal and have lives full of joy. To see awareness, education, and prevention of sexual violence increased worldwide. 

Today I want to remind you of these stories that fill my world. They are horrifying and true. They happen every day in this country, in other countries, and all around the world. Rape is never about sex. Rape is always about violence and power. Speaking specifically to the situation in the Congo, rape is happening there as an act of war.  The United Nations estimates that more than 8,000 women were raped by warring factions in the Congo last year. Sexual violence is practiced systematically by both soldiers and rebel fighters. This includes gang rapes and assaults. Many of the victims are children. In this attack, many of the women reported that they were raped repeatedly by three to six men.  The youngest reported victim was a baby, only one month old.  By the time the survivors were able to get medical help, it was too late to give medicine against AIDS for all but three survivors, out of the 179 who were treated.

These stories don't make our news every night. The rapes in the Congo might not be a part of your world right now. It is easy to forget they are happening, or to think that they stopped, as my friend Debra did. But for the people living there, the fear is real, they can't get away from the violence. There is little protection for a woman in the Congo. Many times rapes are committed in their own homes, in front of their children and husbands. The health and psychological issues that follow these brutal attacks are huge, and expensive to treat. Many women who have been raped are shunned by their families and have nowhere to go, no money to pay for medical treatment and counselling, and no money or employment to support themselves.

I don't want to pour out all that information on you without giving you some hope, something to do with it. Recently, my friend Erin sent me a powerful blog post from Cherry Woodburn, about rape being the most powerful act of war. Please go read it. At the bottom she has some resources and books listed. 

If you find, after reading this, that the women of the Congo have entered your world and you want to do more to help them, I would encourage you to start researching the Congo's rape epidemic. Check out organizations like HEAL Africa and Women for Women International. They are there in the Congo working with rape survivors, providing medical care, safe places to live, counselling, educational opportunities, and more - all important parts of healing and having hope for a future.  Pray for these women. Don't let them get too far from your heart. Speak out to your friends and family about what is happening. Spread awareness. Rape is happening around the world every day. In Africa, and other places, it is being used as an act of war. We can't go on with our lives ignoring what that means for the very real people who are touched by this reality every day.


  1. that's one of the things I love about you! Your passion and your willingness to take a stand because in NO instance is RAPE ever acceptable!
    Great informative post Tracie!

  2. Your passion for this horror reminds me of my passion for pediatric cancer... it's consuming.
    Thank you for sharing your truth and being so open.

  3. Very interesting post.

    Truth is, we stop hearing about gang rapes in Africa in other parts of the world not because they have STOPPED but because they've already been covered.

    That's the news. One story. Hyped sensationalism and then they move on even though there has been no resolution.

    Congratulations for blogging about it.


  4. Tracie,

    You are right. These things fall off our radar. Whether it's the flooding in Pakistan or the next PTA meeting that consumes my mind and energy, I do forget. I'm sorry to say that but it is very true. Thank you for reminding me of this real and horrifying problem. I can't promise that I will always remember but I will try harder to educate myself and be more aware. I applaud you for the work you do and the amazing survivor you are!!!


  5. This is such an informative fantastic post. I read that first sentence and it just made me sick to my stomach. Thank you for raising awareness. You are remarkable.

  6. My husband and I were discussing this recently as I am trying to get through a memoir called A Long Way Gone, A Memoir of A Boy Soldier.

    I am an anthropology major, and have a great interest and passion for these parts of the world, but it absolutely shreds my insides to pieces when I read about the barbaric acts of violence that are committed against human beings--especially children.

    Public awareness and knowledge is so crucial and as much as I believe in the importance of educating the public, I believe equally as human beings we must be willing to be open to the information and not turn a blind eye to the current events that the world is facing both locally and globally.

    I think we owe it you and to others that have experienced such violations to listen, learn and contribute if we can.

    A very moving post---thank you.

  7. It really is amazing what we still allow to continue in the world today...I guess because of my field, I'm more aware of things like this too...and am completely flabbergasted when people say things like, "Burma? What is that? Some type of cheese?" (True story). Ignorance truly is bliss...but not what we're called to for sure. Thank you for your passion and your dedication Tracie.

  8. It just surprises me that in the world we live today people will think something like the rape of women in war will have ended.

  9. Tracie, your passion and your honesty, your willingness to write and share about all of this---gives me chills. You are such an inspiration and I know you are helping others out there who may be struggling. I am so proud to call you my friend. Wonderful post!

  10. Last year I did a presentation for my womens studies class on wartime rape. Congo was central to it. If you want I can look up my notes and such and share it with you for future informational resources.


    ~ Joanna

  11. It is a wonderful thing when someone has survived a tragedy and uses their experience to help others. Thank you for being a voice.

  12. It's easy for those of us living happy, safe lives to turn a blind eye to these atrocities. Thanks for bringing it to our attention. I will say a special prayer tonight for all victims of sexual abuse, as well as for those who have the power to stop it.

  13. What you said about your friend is so right on. Sometimes if things don't happen in our immediate circle or SMACK dab in our life, it is easy for us to look away. I pray not only for all victims of sexual abuse, but that I have the eyes to truly see outside of myself.

    Bouncing over to HEAL Africa now. Thanks for the post.

  14. Great post!
    Sexual abuse is far too common and especially in war zones and poor countries and in countries where women can not go to school.
    That's why we should support girls all over the globe go to school. Education is the only way women will be heard in this world...

  15. This is not an easy subject to address yet you have done it so well. I too come into contact with people who have been abused weekly and it is definitely not stopped or gone away! its important to keep the issue topical.
    See a post I did in August about violence against women and be encouraged, yours is not the only voice, we stand together in spreading the word and removing the stigma associated with such heinous crimes. (post link:]

    rue (E:thos)

  16. Thanks for all you do to raise awareness--you awesome advocate, you! :) And thanks for letting us use this wonderfully-written, great educational post for THE BLOG CARNIVAL AGAINST CHILD ABUSE. You rock!

  17. Tracie, I add my thanks to everyone else's for the work that you do in informing others about abuse of women and children. Thank God that men are finally coming forth and beginning to speak about their own experiences with sexual abuse. We need everyone's voices to make a difference.