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.