Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

The following stories contain content relating to sexual violence, forced marriage, and torture. These stories were collected in partnership with activist Lisa Shannon, founder of Every Woman Treaty. We have used pseudonyms as requested by the storytellers to protect their identities. For more information on our story collection process, please reach out to lsalmiery@popconnect.org.

“Niala”

Content Warning: Sexual Violence, Traumatic Fistula

The staff at Panzi Hospital in Congo, which specializes in treating women with traumatic fistula from rape, is used to women arriving shell-shocked from trauma. But Niala was in such rough shape emotionally, staff was deeply concerned she might not make it. Niala was only 12 when she was raped, and she was pregnant. Instead of love and support, her family rejected her. In their view, she had lost her virginity, reputation, and everyone could see it on her tiny 12-year-old frame. She showed up at Panzi only with a very thin will to live, overwhelmed by the prospects of what life held for her with no family, no money, no home, no education, and a baby soon to arrive only reminded her of the extreme trauma of her rape. When she gave birth, she delivered a stillborn infant. While under normal circumstances this would be a devastating loss, for Niala, it was a reprieve. She still couldn’t return home, but with support from Panzi Hospital, she was able to dream about her future again. Panzi Executive Director Naama Haviv described Niala in their meeting as “all smiles and teenage self-assurance.” “She told us she was starting school again this month. She told us she is going to work hard and that she wants to be a minister someday. She wants to help people.”


“Rebecca”

Content Warning: Unsafe Abortion

In her native language, Rebecca’s real name means listen, but don’t speak. Indeed, she was a very quiet girl when she showed up at Panzi Hospital. She was raped and became pregnant when she was only 13. Like so many girls raped in Congo, her family rejected her because of the perceived damage. She didn’t want the baby she carried, but there was no choice. She delivered via C-section. As Naama Haviv, Executive Director of Panzi Foundation USA put it, “Her teenage body just wasn’t ready to give birth.” Rebecca rejected the baby for weeks, refusing to name him or breastfeed him. Only with what Haviv terms “serious psycho-social intervention, could she accept the baby.”

With the support of her best friend, Niala, she has now taken on mothering the baby boy, naming him ‘May it be so.” Her life is back on track with support services from Panzi Hospital, including school, vocational training, and full time day care—unheard of in Congo outside of Panzi.


“Marta,” “Ange,” and “Bisette”

Content Warning: Sexual Violence

SAJECEK, a grassroots organization in a rough neighborhood, found 83 girls, aged 12-17, being exploited in brothels in the area. These girls are 12, 13, 14. Here are three of their stories:

When Marta was 12, she was happy in school. But then three boys raped her, and she became pregnant. Her family rejected her.

Ange was 12. She’d been expelled from home by her parents as well. Now she is 13 and five months pregnant. She doesn’t know how she will take care of her child. “I can’t even take care of myself,” she says.

Bisette’s father was very ill and died, and she cannot live with her mother. “There was no one that could help us. I had to fight for survival. Especially now that I have a child, I have to fight to survive. This isn’t what I would choose.”

These girls, these children, “work”; in a brothel. The men pay 1,000 Congolese Francs—around $1.00—for “quick sex.” They like the younger girls, so the brothels heavily recruit for them. They put the youngest girls out front to lure in the customers.


“Furaha”

Content Warning: Unsafe Abortion

After Furaha’s mother died in the war, she stuck close to cousins and neighbors for her regular chores. But one day, when she and four of her cousins and neighbors walked to the river to collect water, they were abducted by a militia. For months, Furaha and her cousins were held as sex slaves in the forest. Finally, when another militia attacked, they managed to flee their captors amid the chaos. By that time, Furaha was pregnant.

With no possessions or money, at 28 weeks pregnant and hoping to find help, Furaha walked south for five days. She reached Goma and went into labor. Women from a church took her to Heal Africa. Furaha gave birth to a premature baby boy. She didn’t want to keep him—he was a reminder of the torture she endured in the forest. She was only 15 and had no skills or anywhere to go after she was released from the hospital. The baby was also severely disabled, due to the premature birth.

One of the nurses brought Furaha and the baby home. Others sent money for her to attend sewing classes to make a living. But her son is severely developmentally delayed and will likely never walk. And in Congo, there are no services or support for disabled children. So she couldn’t take the sewing classes, even with the financial help. As is common with girl survivors of rape, with little hope of a future, Furaha began acting out. She began engaging in highly risky sexual behavior. Within a year, she was pregnant again.


“Marie”

Content Warning: Denial of Abortion, Suicide

“My daughter is six months old. I came here to learn new life skills. My life is worthless for the time being. I am living a very bad life because of being a mother unexpectedly. I am dreaming to be able to go back to school, get a job, take care of myself and my child. When I knew I was pregnant, I felt to be the most misfortunate person in the world. I was raped but it was only after three months that I knew I was pregnant. I wanted to kill myself. I was not sure I would survive the pregnancy and I never wanted to be pregnant. My dream is to become able to take care of myself, my child, and my mom. The programs at the women’s center have transformed my life at different levels.”


“Antonia”

Content Warning: Denial of Abortion, Suicide

“I am so unhappy to be what I have become. I came to this center because I wanted to learn some vocational skills after I was impregnated and was forced to cut off school. Being a mother for me is the most difficult thing and situation I’ve ever gone through. It is difficult to take care of a child when you have nobody, you have nothing. I want and dream to become a medical doctor. When I knew I was pregnant, I felt it was the end of my life and I was not able to terminate the pregnancy because it was force on me.”


“Julie”

Content Warning: Denial of Abortion, Suicide

“I came to the center to get an opportunity to rebuild my life. I have no father, no mother. I was unfortunately impregnated by unknown armed people who raped me. It is very difficult to be a mother, especially when you have to provide support to the child, when he’s sick or hungry and you have nothing to meet these needs. I had never been lucky to go to school because my parents died when I was 11 years old. I suffered and I am suffering a lot. The only moment I feel I am a person is when I come here at the women’s center to be in a group. I dream to become able to work for myself and be able to help my child and myself. I had no ways to terminate the pregnancy. I did not know what to do when I discovered I was pregnant. I was afraid, I was thinking I was going to die of the pregnancy. My life has been paralyzed entirely.”


“Wandolyn”

Content Warning: Denial of Abortion, Suicide

Wandolyn was brutally gang-raped by Congolese soldiers. Despite her husband’s efforts to hide the attack, Wandolyn developed severe infections from her injuries and had to seek medical help. It was there she learned she was pregnant. Severely traumatized by the rape, Wandolyn rejected her baby girl for months and later spent nine months in a mental hospital to try and deal with the trauma.

“I was so sad about my pregnancy. I didn’t know what to do. I preferred dying than remaining with that pregnancy as days went by. I delivered a baby girl. They brought the baby to me. I didn’t even like to hear about that baby. I didn’t even like to see that baby as I considered it the source of my misery and suffering. I said I wouldn’t even look at that baby. Whenever they brought that baby to me, I was crying with the presence of the baby. They had to ask other women in maternity to give some milk from their breasts to the baby. After two months, the doctors called me and told me they were tired of asking milk for the baby. They asked me to take the baby. I said no. The presence of the baby was a stimulus to me. I was suffering a lot when seeing the baby.”