The Socio-economic consequences of sexual violence: MSF report eastern DRC

"Since I was raped in August 2002 I am living in fear. My husband has left me alone with my eight children and two of them have died since because of starvation. I have lost a lot of weight. I am suffering from insomnia and I don't have the strength to look after my children. My husband said that maybe if I am cured he will have me back, but maybe he already has another wife now."
Woman, November 2003

On top of the physical and psychological trauma caused by sexual violence, the raped woman often is stigmatised by the community and sometimes even rejected by her husband.

Stigma might lead to the total rejection by both family and community. In other cases, the husband is too ashamed and afraid to lose his honour so the rape is silenced and the woman is allowed to stay. Though better off, the woman is still subjected daily to the anger of the husband expressed physically or mentally through reminding the woman of the event. A climate of silent hostility seems to take hold of most couples following the rape, but open reproaches seemingly blow up whenever the tension rises between the spouses.

As this 40-year-old woman explained to MSF: "Whenever my husband and I have an argument he calls me the wife of the militia men who raped me. When I am alone and I think about it I start to cry, I am so scared that it ends up destroying my family..." The following woman adds: "When I ask my husband to give me some food he replies to me, why don't you go and ask for food to your husband in the forest." Some husbands accept what has happened and understand the powerlessness of their wife.

Economic hardship
Isolated, ashamed, and forced to find their own way, women find themselves in economic hardship. They are the ones who have to help bring in food yet they dare not go to their fields to cultivate for fear of insecurity and possibility of being raped again. As this 35- year-old woman explains, "I would rather never go there again because I got so close to death." But in a context where cultivation is the key source of food, and where other economic opportunities such as trade have been totally disrupted by the war, going to the fields remains for many women the only way of ensuring that they can feed their children.

"I was raped in the fields one week ago. That day, a man caught me as I was working with four other women from my community. I tried to defend myself, but he slapped me and then he hit me so strong that I fell on the ground. He tore off my clothes and told me to lie down. He started to rape me and I thought he was going to kill me. But when he was finished he just said "get up, you can go now." My husband was away at that time so I only told my family I had been robbed and looted - not that I had been raped. I don't know if I will ever tell my husband. I guess I will only tell him if he asks me about it because I don't know what lies in his heart. I haven't gone back to the fields yet, but I will have to very soon, it is the only way I can feed my five children." Woman, November 2003

Download the entire report here in PDF format.