Congo (DRC)

A missionary’s determined struggle to support victims of sexual abuse in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), many women are subjected to horrific sexual abuse.“It was in 2008.

Six armed men killed my parents with a machete and a hoe, and took me by force to marry their chief.”

This is how the story of Françoise begins.

Father Bernard Ugeux, a missionary in Bukavu in the province of South Kivu in the DRC, often hears this kind of narrative. For many years, he has provided spiritual support for girls and women who are the victims of sexual assaults.

“Women and girls come to confess the attacks that they have been subjected to,” Father Ugeux says. “So we have to explain to these victims that it wasn’t their fault, that they are not to blame at all.”

For the past twenty years, South Kivu has been torn apart by conflicts between various armed groups. Women are the main victims.

In 2016, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) recorded 2,593 cases of sexual violence in the DRC. These attacks were carried out by armed men. In 68% of cases, the perpetrators were members of non-State militant groups, notably Mai Mai militia. Altogether 27% of the attacks are imputed to be by members of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC).“

Rape is used as a weapon of destruction, with the express intention to humiliate and destroy,” Father Ugeux explains. “We have even heard cases where armed men have forced mothers to have sexual relations with their children, who are then killed in front of them.”

Faced with this appalling violence and inhumanity, development agencies have turned to the Church to find a response to the suffering experienced by the victims.

The International Union of Superiors General (UISG), with the support of the British Embassy, in April 2017 held a workshop for around forty nuns and priests to train them in the spiritual support and guidance of women who are the victims of violent sexual assaults.

Father Ugeux is an active contributor to this training in the pastoral care of rape victims. He advocates a psycho-social methodology.“

It is not enough to be empathic and to allow these victims to express their emotions and painful memories in safety and security,” he states. “They must also, and perhaps above all, be given the material and social means to re-enter a community where they can find a place and a role, where they can find respect and safety.”

This psycho-social model is promoted at the Nyota Center. Created by the Bukavu Diocese and managed by a religious congregation, it offers shelter to 250 girls each year, who are victims of violence, prostitution or extreme poverty.

It is thanks to the Nyota Center that Françoise has managed to keep her head above water. As a victim of sexual abuse for many long months, she believed that she would never be able to have “a normal life” after such a horrific experience. Today, she is employed and lives happily with her child.“

Now I’m just a girl like all the others,” she says.

Source : la-croix.com

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