The New York Times May 11, 2011 Congo Study Sets Estimate for Rapes Much Higher By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN A new study in The American Journal of Public Health, expected to be published Thursday online, estimates that nearly two million women have been raped in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with women victimized at a rate of nearly one every minute. The study, one of the first comprehensive looks at the prevalence of rape in Congo, indicates that the problem is much bigger and more pervasive than previously thought. Women have reported alarming levels of sexual abuse in the capital and in provinces far from Congo’s war-torn east, a sign that the problem extends beyond the nation’s primary conflict zone. “Not only is sexual violence more generalized,” the study said, “but our findings suggest that future policies and programs should focus on abuse within families.” For the past 15 years, Congo has been racked by myriad rebel groups that terrorize civilians, particularly in the east, often to exploit the country’s mineral riches or to flaunt their abusive power. United Nations officials have called Congo the epicenter of rape as a weapon of war, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited rape victims in eastern Congo in 2009 in an effort to draw more attention to one of Africa’s most intractable and disturbing conflicts. Still, comprehensive statistics have been hard to come by. Many areas of Congo are inaccessible — cut off by thick forests and warring groups — and many victims have been too frightened to speak out. The central government is also weak, which has exacerbated the violence and made it difficult to collect information. The conclusions in the new study, by three public health researchers — Amber Peterman of the International Food Policy Research Institute, Tia Palermo of Stony Brook University and Caryn Bredenkamp of the World Bank — are based on extrapolations from a household survey done in 2007 of 3,436 Congolese women nationwide. The researchers found that around 12 percent were raped at least once in their lifetime and 3 percent were raped in the one-year period before the survey. Around 22 percent had been forced by their partners to have sex or perform sexual acts against their will, the study showed, implying that sexual abuse often happened at home. The women, ages 15 to 49, were interviewed in a demographic and health survey partly financed by the American government. The study’s authors then used current population estimates, which put Congo’s population at around 70 million, to extrapolate that as many as 1.8 million Congolese women had been raped, with up to 433,785 raped in the one-year period, which would mean almost a rape a minute. Congo has been the subject of sweeping studies before, including some by the International Rescue Committee, a private aid organization, which has estimated that Congo’s civil war has claimed more lives than any other conflict since World War II. Some scientists have criticized those studies as being too reliant on projections and not grounded enough in hard facts. Michael VanRooyen, director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, which has sent doctors to Congo to treat rape victims, said that there were “some limitations in the methodology, such as the sampling methods and the sample sizes” of the new rape study. But he argued that “the important message remains: that rape and sexual slavery have become amazingly commonplace in this region of the D.R.C., and have defined this conflict as a war against women.” The study’s authors believe the rape problem may be worse than their study suggests. The findings are based on survey results from females of reproductive age, but many reports and witness accounts have shown that armed men often gang-rape young girls — some even toddlers — and women in their 70s and older, in addition to a growing number of men and boys. Also, many rape victims never report being assaulted because of the shame and stigma. In Congo, countless women have been abandoned by their husbands after being raped. “There are two big surprises in the study,” said Anthony Gambino, mission director for Congo of the United States Agency for International Development in 2001-4. “First, the magnitude of the problem — rates of rape that are much higher than seen elsewhere. And, second, that these alarming, shockingly high rape statistics are found in western Congo as well as northern and eastern Congo.” Scientists and aid workers have struggled to pinpoint exactly why so many women are raped in Congo. Mr. Gambino says it may be related to nearly 40 years of “steady economic and political decline,” which has meant that the government’s presence has essentially disappeared from many areas of Congo.