Battles on Women's Bodies: War, Rape, and Traumatisation in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo


Trenholm, Jill E., P. Olsson and B. M. Ahlberg. 2011. "Battles on Women's Bodies: War, Rape and Traumatisation in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo." Global Public Health 6 (2): 139-52.

Authors: Jill E. Trenholm, P. Olsson, B.M. Ahlberg


Rape has been used as a weapon in the conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in unprecedented ways. Research into the phenomenon of war-rape is limited, particularly in this context. The aim of this study was to explore perceptions of local leaders in eastern DRC concerning rape and raped women in the war context. Local leaders were chosen for their ability to both reflect and influence their constituencies. Interviews were conducted with 10 local leaders and transcripts subjected to qualitative content analysis.The study suggests that mass raping and the methods of perpetration created a chaos effectively destroying communities and the entire society and that humanitarian aid was often inappropriate. Furthermore, an exclusive focus on raped women missed the extent of traumatisation entire communities suffered. More significantly, the lack of political will, corruption, greed and inappropriate aid creates a tangled web serving to intensify the war. This complexity has implications for humanitarian interventions including public health.

Keywords: sexual violence, war rape, humanitarian aid


"Most rape survivors are assumed to be infected by HIV so rather than receiving an empathetic healing reception, according to the leaders, they are promptly ostracised from their communities." (143)

"Concern was expressed about the appropriateness of humanitarian aid. The impression was that the focus on aid and its agents, without assessment of the needs as expressed by the local people, serves to divert attention from critical precipitating factors….'someone arrives here with 5 million dollars, with his action plan, he has never asked the people what is the situation?'" (146)

"The leaders also pointed out the futility of international aid agencies providing simple things while, at the same time, the weapons used to terrorise originate from the very same countries." (146)

"The attention from the international community to raped women only was seen by leaders as a misreading of the local realities.  While the mostly male leaders' reaction could be interpreted as part of the continuing saga of 'the invisible woman', and may indeed be a gender-blind perspective of violence, the main message is how the entire society suffers from war-rape, yet little regard has been paid to this aspect. The emerging knowledge from this study is that an exclusive focus, however, limited, on raped women could miss the suffering and traumatisation of their partners and children." (148)

"An underlying theme of this study is the absence of criticism by the leaders regarding their state government's own responsibilities. Citizens in postcolonial countries that have historically lacked legitimacy/good governance often look to outsiders (the international community) for solutions (Brinkerhoff 2007). This lack of confidence in their own government's capabilities is not surprising in light of their history." (150)

Topics: Armed Conflict, Gender, Women, Gender-Based Violence, Health, Trauma, Sexual Violence, Rape, SV against Women Regions: Africa, Central Africa Countries: Democratic Republic of the Congo

Year: 2011

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