The United Methodist Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo is helping raise awareness about sexual assault and encouraging victims to break their silence and seek justice.
The United Nations has called the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo the rape capital of the world. In southern Maniema province, 5,000 cases of sexual violence were recorded in 2017 and most of the victims are girls ages 14 to 17, according to a report from the Provincial Division of Gender, Family and Children in Maniema.
Mai-Mai Malaïka rebels have caused insecurity in the region for years and its militiamen from various armed groups are suspected of committing the sexual assaults, according to the report.
United Methodist pastors here have condemned the violence and continue to urge women and girls to speak up so that justice can be served. They also talk to Christian men about the legal consequences of sexual violence. Rapists face up to 20 years in prison in the DRC, but many are never brought to justice.
"We encourage (women and girls) to know how to denounce cases of sexual violence before authorities so that justice is done," said the Rev. Augustin Bosenga Mombele, superintendent of the Samba District. "We explain to men that they risk jail time because of sexual violence. We also sensitize them to disassociate themselves from the rebels because they commit despicable acts by raping women and girls."
Sexual assault victims are often abandoned by their families and communities because of the stigma associated with rape in the country. The Division of Gender, Family and Children said it also fears for the health of the victims, as the HIV status of the rapists is unknown.
Judith Osongo Yanga, director of communication for the East Congo Conference, works with the Arise from Stigma movement, which supports victims of sexual violence.
She asks United Methodists to pray for peace in the southern part of the province of Maniema.
"These are our mothers, our sisters, women ... who are raped every day, more than 5,000 women last year. It is huge. We condemn these acts and call on women to stand up to denounce cases of rape and fight against the stigmatization of victims of sexual violence," Yanga said.
She said the government must move quickly to restore peace in the area and drive out the rebels. "Without peace and the restoration of state authority in this area, women may continue to be raped every day."
Mombele said it's time to raise a cry of alarm to the provincial government and to United Nations agencies in order to help victims.
In Kindu, the capital of the Maniema province, United Methodists are working to build a center that will give rape survivors a chance to heal and overcome the stigma that makes them outcasts.
The California-Pacific, Memphis and Tennessee conferences are nearing their $350,000 fundraising target for the Mama Lynn Center.
"The building will house some wonderful programs, and we're also working to produce communications that make it known The United Methodist Church stands against rape and stigma, and with survivors," said the Rev. Neelley Hicks, founder of Harper Hill Global and co-coordinator of the campaign Congo Women Arise.
Londe is a communicator for the East Congo Conference. Kathy L. Gilbert contributed to this report. News media contact: Vicki Brown at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected] To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.