Congo: Positive Results From Group Therapy for Sexual Violence Victims

The war-torn nation is called the "rape capital of the world." 

Posted: 06/19/2013 05:56 PM EDT

A study conducted by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Washington, on women in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) reveals a promising path to recovery for sexual violence victims.

The study showed that group therapy dramatically reduces trauma symptoms such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) depression and anxiety and improved overall functionalities of participants.

In comparison to one-on-one counseling, after six months of cognitive-processing therapy (CPT), only 9 percent of women who received treatment were still classified as having probable trauma symptoms while 42 percent of women who did not participate in the group sessions, were still classified as having probable PTSD, depression or anxiety.

The first of its kind, the study focuses on 405 women from 15 villages in North Kivu and South Kivu Provinces of eastern Congo and is a rigorous impact assessment of “psychological support to survivors of sexual violence in conflict affected countries,” said the IRC

The war-torn Congo is infamously dubbed as “the rape capital of the world” because of its high maternal mortality and sexual violence rates.

“Unfortunately, there has been war for 20 years now, and we, the women and girls of Congo, too often bear the brunt of this conflict,” said Viviane Maroy Bora, a psychosocial counselor for the IRC.

In the first half of 2012, there were 2,517 registered cases of rape, according to Heal Africa, which runs a hospital for rape victims in the city of Goma. The IRC’s study also cites that nearly 40 percent of women in the DRC have experienced sexual violence.

Bora explained that such women endure misplaced guilt and display severe traumatic symptoms that hinder their ability to function and take care of their daily needs.

“Women who were too afraid to work or were overcome by feelings of shame told us that after the group therapy, they have been able to turn their lives around and once again be part of the community,” said Catherine Poulton, an IRC adviser for women’s protection and empowerment programs. 

Although group therapy isn’t a stand-alone solution, the IRC continues to train community based counselors in Congo to combat the negative effects of sexual violence. IRC researchers hope to integrate this form of therapy into the DRC’s health system and eventually use it as a model for other regions around the world experiencing a similar situation.

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(Photo: REUTERS/Katrina Manson)

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