The following is from a Q & A with THÉRÈSE MEMA MAPENZI, who works with rape victims in South Kivu for the Justice and Peace Commission in Bukavu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Q: Often survivors of rape are re-victimised at a community level. Can you explain how that happens?
A: These people suffer terrible treatment from rebel groups. When they return to their communities, they are discriminated against. Until 2010, many victims of rape were not even considered in their communities and discriminated against by their families and neighbours.
Men were often forced to watch their wives being raped and threatened with being killed if they tried to help. Afterwards, it is difficult for men to talk about this experience, because they were supposed to protect the women, so they feel powerless and ashamed.
It also happens that men who were not with their wives when the rapes took place then consider them collaborators with the rebels.
Q: You work with 16 listening centres (trauma centres) in different villages of South Kivu. Why is listening so important?
A: Only by actively listening to people’s problems can one understand them or know what kind of assistance to provide. That is why it is so crucial to listen. By doing so, we contribute to their healing by showing compassion and sympathy. Most of the time, trauma-related secrets that we have to hold back destroy us from within without our even knowing.
For example, many people, especially women, here suffer from stomachaches, tension and headaches because they do not know to whom they can reveal their problems and associated emotions.
Q: Should victims be speaking out as well?
A: Victims must talk about their trauma in order to be healed. In the healing process, one of our goals is to enable traumatised victims to speak out about their situation and where and why they have problems in their daily lives, so they can feel relief. If he or she does not speak, the process of healing the trauma cannot proceed.
See IPS News Agency for the entire interview.