According to a study by US scientists published in the American Journal of Public Health, an average of 48 females aged 15-49 are raped every hour in Democratic Republic of Congo. (photo, from aljazeera.net)
In 2006 and 2007, during a 12-month period 400,000 girls and women were raped, said the study.
These numbers are significantly higher than those given by the UN last year, who estimated that 15,000 rapes were reported in one year.
The figures show that women are better able to report rape, says the DRC, a country ravaged by war where sexual violence has long been a dominant feature.
Recent increases in rape figures are a result of better reporting rather than rising violence, government spokesman Lambert Mende told the BBC.
“The report itself of these scientists is an evidence of the state becoming more and more efficient by dispatching judges, prosecutors, police all over the country,” he said.
“It is that, that allows people now to complain and to feed such reports.”
‘Great human crises’
While previous estimates were made from police and health centre reports, this study, entitled Estimates and Determinants of Sexual Violence Against Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo, used data from a 2007 government health survey.
Amber Peterman, leading author of the study, said: “Our results confirm that previous estimates of rape and sexual violence are severe underestimates of the true prevalence of sexual violence occurring in the DRC.
“Even these new, much higher figures still represent a conservative estimate of the true prevalence of sexual violence because of chronic underreporting due to stigma, shame, perceived impunity, and exclusion of younger and older age groups as well as men,” she added.
Although the report said that there was sexual violence outside of war zones and into Congo’s civilian society, the highest numbers of rapes were found in war-ravaged North Kivu (map, from bbcimg.co.uk). In this region an average of 67 women out of 1,000 have been raped at least once.
Michael VanRooyen, director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, said that “rape in the DRC… has emerged as one of the great human crises of our time”.