The Spine

Unimaginable Violence Against Women


One of my special fields for the general examinations for the PhD was
African nationalism. This was in the early sixties, and everywhere there
was hope for the continent. The continent's leaders were, it seemed,
mostly graduates of the London School of Economics or had been trained in
the (hypocritical) mores of French culture. No one would have
imagined the catastrophe that is Africa now. No one.

Yes, Pat Moynihan blamed the rotting economies of Africa on the Fabian
socialism of the L.S.E. Alas, it has gone way beyond that ... and long
ago. All too often, where power resides, whether in the
presidential palace or in the wild jungles and desolate deserts of the
continent, brutal men govern and more brutal men under them pillage and
rape. This was the headline to Jeffrey Gettleman's story in yesterday's
Times: "Rape Epidemic Raises Trauma in Congo War." The Globe
headline to the same story advances the narrative: "Savage rapes worsen
trauma of Congo war despite UN presence." Sudan is not an exception. And, as the second headline indicates, a U.N. presence, even one
with 17,000 troops, the largest peace-keeping force in the world, can't put
an end to this savagery. Or won't.

Here's how John Holmes, the U.N. undersecretary general for humanitarian
affairs, put it: "The sexual violence in Congo is the worst in the
world. The sheer numbers, the wholesale brutality, the culture of impunity -- it's appalling."

And here's one woman's story, just one instance:

Honorata Barinjibanwa, an 18-year-old woman with high cheekbones and downcast eyes, said she was kidnapped from a village that the Rastas raided in April and kept as a sex slave until August. Most of that time she was tied to a tree, and she still has rope marks ringing her delicate neck. The men would untie her for a few hours each day to gang-rape her, she said.

"I'm weak, I'm angry, and I don't know how to restart my life," she said from Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, where she was taken after her captors freed her.

She is also pregnant.

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