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Several friends contacted me yesterday to share NPR’s story, “Attempts To Address Rape In Congo Produced Unintended Consequences.” I’ve worked for the last several years with The United Methodist Church throughout the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and wanted to share my thoughts.

A Bigger Problem

It’s never a good idea for outside groups to dangle carrots for those who comply with a certain profile. As a clergywoman, I once learned of a program that served conversion to Christ before one was invited to the meal. How many “real” conversions do you think took place that day? Basic human needs like food cannot be offered with stipulations to hungry people. This is an easy way for programs to obtain goal numbers without having to deal with the complexity of being in long-term relationship with those whom they serve.

Chameleons are often made in dire situations…people become who you want them to be, when they are living in chronic hopelessness. This is the human condition.

Consequences

If one woman says that she has been raped when in fact she has not, her actions then cast doubt on countless others who have been assaulted. Reporting rape is most often a luxury, afforded to those who have paid leave, access to an attorney and transportation, and a human network supportive enough to get her (or him) through the blame, accusations, and trials that are sure to come. For those who have been brutally assaulted during violent conflicts in East Congo, none of these “luxuries” are afforded. Instead, women are certain to be cast out from homes and communities when it becomes known. Learn more

Women gather to discuss stigma due to rape. Photo credit: Melissa Wheatley

Accountability

The one thing that helps us get through life is relationships. We are dependent upon them when we are helpless babies, and when we begin to walk, talk and eat on our own, we are no less dependent. We are made this way, by God who intends us to be one family, one humanity, connected and made for community.

This is why localized programs led by existing religious groups – like The United Methodist Church in East Congo work well. When they are the initiators and actors in programs like “Congo Women Arise,” they have relationships, and continue to form them long after visitors have left.

Yesterday, Director of Communications for East Congo Episcopal Area Judith Yanga responded, “The church faced this situation [the rape crisis] and has seen that it takes a framework where its women and children victims of violence can come to find new life and be useful in society. The society forgets that a rape victim has the right to life.”

Each of us humans are accountable for our actions…for better or worse. Building community – wherever you are – is the best way towards a better world.

If you are interested in learning more about the church’s response to rape in East Congo, share your responses and questions on our common Facebook page.

By Grace,
Neelley