Supporting victims of sexual violence

This program provides medical and psychosocial professional care to women and girls who are survivors of sexual violence. So far, we've helped over more than 3,000 people.

Women singing


Fearless voices report
Fearless Voices shares stories from survivors of sexual violence in the DRC. It calls for justice for these courageous women and girls. Read the report »

About the program

Conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been marked by the systematic use of rape as a weapon of war. All armed forces – both state and non-state – have used sexual violence as one of their main weapons. As impunity for these crimes continues, a culture of sexual violence is emerging in the civilian population.

A 2011 study estimates that 48 women and girls are raped in the DRC every hour. In 2013, 700 cases of sexual violence were reported in North Kivu in the first six months of the year. Most of these crimes go unpunished. [1]

Women and girls are left severely traumatised by the violence itself, and face discrimination, abandonment, displacement and the threat of major health problems, including HIV. They are often left without a means of income and little recourse to justice.

Caritas Australia supports these brave women and girls by providing health, psychosocial, material and legal support.

In four medical institutions across the country, we provide immediate medical care and HIV testing for rape survivors. Special care is given to women who become pregnant as a result of rape.

The program also provides longer-term support. Health and counselling services continue long after immediate medical care and testing is delivered. Training in income-generating activities promotes independence and builds the confidence of survivors. Special focus is placed on reconciling survivors with their families, as they are often stigmatised and rejected by their family and community.

The program also provides legal support for women and girls and works with local authorities to end the culture of impunity for the perpetrators of rape.

Elisabeth's story

Elisabeth

In 2007 Elisabeth was raped by nine men and her family’s tent was set alight. Elisabeth’s two-year-old son died in the blaze. She suffered severe burns to her back, neck, face and arms.

Like many survivors of sexual violence, Elisabeth was abandoned by her husband and, though severely traumatised, courageously began to build a new life for herself and her children. 

Struggling to provide for her family, Elisabeth joined projects run as part of Caritas Australia’s work with survivors of sexual violence. She qualified for a micro loan to start a small business and took part in a community farming initiative. 

Today, Elisabeth’s ability to farm is restricted by her physical injuries, but with counseling, and surrounded by a network of strong, compassionate and fearless women, she says she has the drive to create a brighter future. 

Elisabeth remembers her first encounter with Vumiliya, one of Caritas’ local champions in the campaign to end violence against women. 

“Before I met Vumiliya, I didn’t have any hope at all. We had very little; just had a very small house, made of thatched grass. My children and I slept on the ground. We weren’t protected and when it rained we would all get wet.

"Today I’m sleeping in a house. I can sit in a chair, I have furniture, and my children can sleep on a mattress – I’m so happy for that. My life has improved; the way I was, it is not the way I am today. 

“I can see the solidarity around me. I can see my Caritas family and drives me to continue on. I may not have physical strength but I have the courage to survive.

“Vumiliya is like my mum. I’m so thankful for her, and I want to say thank you to Caritas.”

Isabelle's story

Watch the video below about teenager Isabelle from DRC, who was attacked by soldiers while on her way to fetch water. Supporters of Caritas Australia's Congo Appeal have helped her and many others rebuild their lives.   

Program details

  • Issues: Women and development; Health
  • Partner Agency: Caritas Development Goma
  • Funding in 2014/15 financial year: US $160,000
  • Geographic location: Rutshuru, Masisi and Goma city


[1] Data from Peterman, Palermo and Bredenkamp, 2011 and UN, 2013.