Will Cragin: Many of these brutal attacks were carried out in front of the women's children & husbands

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The Independent Online

We had been working with health centres since June in this area that has been overwhelmed by people fleeing the fighting. We received a UN alert that the area had been taken over by armed men, and it warned all humanitarian organisations to be careful and not go into the area.

It wasn't until later that a local leader, who travelled through the area, gave us initial reports of a mass rape, and we sent an emergency response team as soon as we could. We had heard that there were 15 cases, but when we got there with the local leader, we immediately identified 22 cases of sexual violence.

The problem was that much of the population had left the village and gone into the forest, but they had not yet returned to the village. When they did, over the coming days, the number of cases kept growing.

We learned that the soldiers entered the village and surrounding areas on 30 July, urging the population not to flee as they had only come for food. After dark, another group of armed men arrived, and over the next four days they pillaged the villages and raped many women. Most of the rapes were carried out by two to six men, often taking place in front of the women's children and husbands. Large numbers of women were physically beaten before the sexual assaults. The attackers often took them into the bush or back into their homes where they were raped.

When we arrived on 6 August, many of the women were very traumatised. People came up to us and explained what had happened: they showed remarkable resilience. As well as being traumatised, they were concerned about how they would carry on with their livelihoods in their villages. There are about 2,100 people in this village, but a number of surrounding villages were also occupied. It's an agricultural community, but many people work in mines about 30kms away. It's a densely forested area and relatively isolated, with one main road that goes through the village and leads to Goma, the provincial capital.

Most of the women who were attacked remain in the village, as the local authorities encouraged them to return home. The population has showed a great determination to move on.

Will F Cragin is the International Medical Corps' programme coordinator for North Kivu

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