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Congo Rape Problem More Widespread Than Thought, Study Shows

At least 400,000 women were raped in Democratic Republic of Congo over a 12-month period in 2006 and 2007, according to an American Journal of Public Health study that shows the problem of sexual assault is not confined to the restive east.

The study, based on a 2007 nationwide survey of 3,436 women between the ages of 15 and 49, estimates that more than 1.7 million Congolese women have been raped in their lifetime and at least 3 million more have been raped by an intimate partner.

“Not only is sexual violence more generalized than previously thought, but our findings suggest that future policies and programs should focus on abuse within families,” the study said. Congo should “eliminate the acceptance of and impunity surrounding sexual violence nationwide.”

Congo is recovering from more than a decade of war that began in the mid-1990s. Fighting continues in the country’s mineral-rich east and rape has become a common tactic in the conflict.

In March, a report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called for compensation for Congolese victims of sexual violence through a special reparations fund.

Few rapists are caught, the UN report said, and those who are convicted often escape from prison. In cases where the Congolese government has been found liable for damages, victims have not been paid.

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