Doctor tells of fight to stop rape being used as a weapon

The head of a Congo hospital offering surgery to survivors of sexual assault has come to London

Her name was Sakina. She was 28-years-old when her husband was murdered in the violence that engulfed the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2002.

Fearing for her life – and those of her three children – she fled to a neighbouring village where she was gang-raped by five men because she came from another tribe. The men also inserted the barrel of a gun into her, tearing her internal organs.

Sakina became the first patient of Dr Jo Lusi, then the only doctor in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to offer corrective surgery to women, men and children who had been raped.

Dr Lusi now runs one of only three hospitals in DRC (which is four times the size of France) to carry out surgery on victims of rape. His hospital in Goma is supported by Heal Africa and funded by the British development agency Tearfund. So far this year, he and his team have treated 8,000 women. The youngest was just nine-years-old. The oldest was 70.

“Rape is endemic in Congo,” says Dr Lusi. “Tribes use rape to show that they are stronger than each other, to humiliate each other. When a village is invaded, all the women will be raped.”

Dr Lusi says his work as an orthopaedic surgeon changed direction overnight when Sakina was admitted 11 years ago. “My wife cried all day,” he says. “She pushed me to do something. I feel really, really angry about these rapes. But I have to live positively. I have to fight. You have to focus on what you can change.” 

He was in London this week to address a meeting of delegates from UN, the Department for International Development (DfID) and NGOs, which are seeking further international action to protect women and girls from violence and sexual exploitation after natural disasters, and in conflict zones such as DRC. The UK pledged £21m towards the cause.

There are no reliable statistics for the number of women and girls – who make up the majority of victims – raped every year in the world’s trouble spots. Rape is commonly used as a weapon of war, often as a means of ethnic cleansing, and the number of rapes perpetrated increases at times of political instability or after a natural disaster, when law enforcement is weak. 

According to DfID, in Haiti 18 months after the earthquake sexual abuse was widespread. In Kenya after the droughts of August 2011, reports of violent attacks on girls and women in the Dadaab camps nearly doubled. In Syria, as the civil war continues, the number of rapes is believed to be rising.

Dr Lusi says admissions to his hospitals doubled in the past three months, as the M23 rebel movement desperately attempted to cling to their strongholds in the east of the country against the Congolese army and UN forces. Following fierce fighting, the M23 rebels surrendered, and a tentative peace deal is in the works.

Dr Lusi says there are queues of women who have been raped waiting for beds in his hospital in Goma.

“When all 12 beds are full and there are 30 more women waiting to be treated, then I can’t sleep. It is chaos, darkness.”

The Congolese army and militias have been accused of using sexual violence against women in conflict, and DRC remains one of the world’s most dangerous places in the world for women and girls to live.

A study carried out by researchers by the World Bank and International Food Policy Research Institute at Stony Brook University in New York, published in 2011, estimated that 1,152 women are raped in DRC every day.

Violence is also used in the home. Based on figures from a nationwide household survey of 3,436 Congolese women aged 15 to 49 in 2007, the study also said around 22 per cent of women said they had been raped or forced to perform sexual acts by their partners. 

Generations have grown up thinking sexual violence against women is part of life, Dr Lusi says. Soon after treating Sakina, he was elected to parliament as a senator. A year later, in 2003, the government passed a law he proposed, giving a mandatory 25-year prison term for convicted rapists.

“Before that if you raped a lady, you had to pay two chickens as a fine,” he says. “So rape was an easy crime. Now you go to prison. No one shuts up about rape any more.”

There is plenty more to be done in DRC to protect and enlarge the rights of women. The 69-year-old told international leaders at the meeting that all development schemes must begin with empowering and educating women. “Women must be the mother of all priorities in development,” he said.

After her surgery, Sakina was helped to find work, and has married again.

“[Physically] Sakina was healed completely... Things like that make me feel very glad. It’s the most joyful thing.”

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Performers dressed as Tunnocks chocolate teacakes, a renowned Scottish confectionary, perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Sport
Arsenal signing Calum Chambers
sportGunners complete £16m transfer of Southampton youngster
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

ICT Teacher

£21804 - £31868 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you a qualified ...

DT Design and Technology Teacher

£21804 - £31868 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are urgently for ...

Maths Teacher

£21804 - £31868 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you an experienc...

Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

£26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on