I remember the sick feeling in my stomach as I read the e-mail from our medical coordinator in the Democratic Republic of Congo:
"We are facing a massive case of community rape in Walikale Health Zone. [...] We expect that in total the number is about 250 women raped in 4 days -- a major catastrophe."
I stared at the screen in bewilderment.
I had been to the DRC a number of times, met many, many women and children who had been raped and whom we were treating. Indeed, the phrase "Rape as a weapon of war" has become a tragic cliché to describe what has been happening in the eastern part of the country the last several years.
But how do you wrap your brain around such numbers -- the scale of the onslaught, the systematic, diabolical nature of an attack in which women, girls, boys are raped by multiple armed men at once, often in front of husbands and children.
The attacks by hundreds of soldiers began July 30 in the village of Luvungi, located near mines
rich in gold, cassiterite and coltan. When our teams were able to reach the village days later and began treating the survivors, they first thought there might be 24, then 56. As more and more victims came forward and the scale of the catastrophe became evident, word spread quickly and the wider international community took notice. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the attack. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon dispatched a special representative to investigate.
As a humanitarian organization that has been operating in DRC since 1999, our focus is healing wounds and helping people to recover and rebuild their lives: providing medical treatment to a woman who has been raped, psychological assistance, and livelihoods assistance so she can get back on her feet and care for herself and her family.
But our mission also focuses on prevention and education -- raising awareness about issues like sexual and gender-based violence, whether it is in a remote community in eastern DRC, or here in Los Angeles, where International Medical Corps is based.
During her visit to our programs in DRC last year, Hillary Clinton declared, "We believe there should be no impunity for the sexual and gender-based violence committed by so many." The U.N. recently echoed her sentiments.
International Medical Corps stands with them in sounding a call to action for eastern DRC. We are very fortunate to have a powerful ally in educating the wider public about what is happening there.
This month, the Geffen Playhouse is staging a production of the astounding Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Ruined" about the triumph of the human spirit in DRC. International Medical Corps serves as an educational sponsor for the production, and all proceeds from the September 28th show, underwritten by The Edgerton Foundation, will go to International Medical Corps' humanitarian work. Following the performance, Nancy A. Aossey, our President and CEO will join the cast on stage for a conversation with the audience about the play, our work in DRC, and the struggles of its people.
For tickets, go to: http://www.internationalmedicalcorps.org/ruined.
It is hard for me to imagine the epidemic of rape in eastern DRC getting worse, and yet is has. All of us must do more to help bring an end to the violence there. How many mass rapes have to occur before the world says "enough"?
Follow Margaret Aguirre on Twitter: www.twitter.com/margaretaguirre