The incidence of rape and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in eastern DRC is among the highest in the world. The most recent study on DRC’s rape epidemic by the American Journal of Public Health in May 2011 estimates that 1.8 million women in DRC have been raped, with women victimized at a rate of nearly one every minute. The conflict in DRC is an outgrowth of the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda. The world has been slow to grasp the gravity of this civil conflict, which has thus far claimed the lives of 5.4 million people—making it the deadliest conflict since World War II. Despite a January 2008 peace accord, armed conflict in the DRC continues.
Throughout this conflict, members of armed groups, government security forces and, increasingly, civilians have been responsible for alarming rates of rape and sexual abuse against women and girls. Especially troubling is that the age of SGBV survivors appears to be declining, with rapes of girls aged 8–14 becoming commonplace. In response to the DRC’s worsening rape crisis, the government passed a national law in 2006 that clearly defines rape and that provides expedited judicial proceedings for SGBV cases and greater protection for survivors. Nevertheless, impunity for perpetrators of SGBV remains widespread. The ABA Rule of Law Initiative’s (ABA ROLI’s) programs in the DRC seek to combat this impunity by providing free legal and psychological counseling, by training justice sector professionals, by educating communities on the 2006 national law and relevant international conventions, and by supporting local bar associations, human rights groups and women’s organizations.