Rape victims need to be empowered through economic uplift schemes. Rape has become part of the culture in DRC as the number of civilian perpetrators of rape increased 17 fold between 2004-2008. Due to the heavy stigmatization of rape, victims do not often report rape. They suffer psychological and physical wounds. They might also become pregnant. When seeking assistance, they may show up at Panzi Hospital up to three years after the assault. The violence that accompanies rape by militias often results in a loss of family members and/or livelihood.
The majority of rape victims in DRC suffer spousal abandonment and are outcast by their communities. This is because of the deep stigmatization of rape and the embarrassment it causes. A report by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative deduces that only 1% of victims coming to seek help at Panzi Hospital are accompanied by their spouses. Victims are thought to be useless as they are considered “damaged”, especially if they can no longer bear children due to injuries. In a lot of cases, continuation of a marriage is contingent upon the victim not being HIV positive. The HHI report also shows that victims often seek help up to three years after their assault. This is due to fear, a lack of support and the absence of resources. Rape victims do not trust the police enough to report to them. In a culture where rape is considered deeply shameful, the women chose to suffer in silence. At this point, there are no hopes of providing medications that prevents HIV and pregnancy. Many women have lost their livelihood and this accompanied by the loss of their spouse leaves them financially bereft. These women feel a deep sense of shame and worthlessness and struggle to support their children.
The Women in War Zones rehabilitation project needs to economically empower women to truly get them back on their feet. In a country where majority of the people survive on a subsistence level, economic empowerment means everything. Unless and until women begin to generate their own income, men will continue to see women as inferior and women will continue to accept their plight. There needs to be work done to break the stigma of rape and the silence that accompanies it. For this, women need to feel comfortable reporting what has happened to them. Since the act of rape is intended to humiliate, rape victims need their pride restored through uplift schemes. A system needs to be established to swiftly address the immediate physical after-effects of rape and take preventive measures against HIV and pregnancy.