This is why, in a six month drive to re-shape attitudes towards the crime, United Nations staff are telling women they can go to court. One of the stops on the campaigns tour is the village of Mwitwobe in Katanga province. There about 100 men and women gathered to hear UN human rights workers tell them about their rights in cases of sexual violence.“Rape is a crime. It is important for you to break your silence and denounce it,” said the UN’s Ashraf Sebbabi, who works for the organisation’s human rights division in Congo.
In 2008, some 1,200 cases of rape were reported in the nations Katanga province, which is the same size as France. "I'd like to know if you know that sexual violence is punishable by law in the DRC," Sebbabi asked Mwitwobe villagers. Rapists, in the West African country can be sentenced to terms of five to 20 years in prison or to life, if the victim dies because of the assault, according to the Congolese Penal Code in his hand. But even though it is illegal to come to an arrangement when a rape case is brought, the Congolese traditionally settle of sexual assault cases through their own customs. Also, a victim’s parents can force the rapist to marry her, after having been compensated both in kind and in cash. These kind of arrangements also bring the added problem that they can encourage rapists to rape again. "Here, you pay money, five goats, a rush mat and a loincloth to purify the image of the girl who has been dishonoured," a young man told Associated Press news agency.
Sebbabi told villagers rape victims need to do three key things after an attack. First find medical help and take an HIV test. The next step she advised potential victims to take was to contact an aid organisation that deals with in human rights. And finally, the most important step to take, she said is to bring charges against the attacker. "You have to see a doctor within three days of an act of sexual violence, because the physical proof won't be visible afterwards," she said. "If you haven't got the money to lay a complaint and seek medical care, you can obtain a certificate of poverty which will entitle you to be taken into care,” she explained.
By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children