Newswise — STONY BROOK, N.Y., May 11, 2011 — A new study based on examination of government-collected and nationally representative data from the Democratic Republic of Congo shows that levels of rape and sexual violence against women in the country are 26 times higher than official United Nations estimates. The study, spearheaded by The Center for Health Services and Outcomes Research, Graduate Program in Public Health, Stony Brook University School of Medicine, is published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Tia M. Palermo, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Preventive Medicine, Graduate Program in Public Health, and colleagues, found in their analysis that more than 400,000 women ages 15 to 49 in the DRC had experienced rape in a 12-month period in 2006 and 2007. That is the equivalent to 1,152 women raped every day, 48 raped every hour, or four women raped every five minutes.

“These estimates of the incidence or rape are 26 times higher than the 15,000 reported by the United Nations for the DRC in 2010,” says Dr. Palermo. “The shockingly high number is also seven times higher than the estimated 57,000 women raped during Sierra Leone’s entire 10-year conflict,” adds Dr. Palermo, offering perspective on widespread nature of rape in the country and region of the world.

The study, “Estimates and Determinants of Sexual Violence Against Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” represents the first-ever population counts and determinants of sexual violence against women in DRC and is based on rigorous analysis of nationally-representative data collected by the DRC Ministries of Planning and Health. Previous information on the incidence of rape in the DRC from governmental and non-governmental organizations, as well as in peer-reviewed publications and popular press, have described rape victims in the DRC as in the “tens of thousands.”

Sexual violence occurred in all of the country’s provinces, the study shows, while the number of women raped during a 12-month period in the eastern conflict area of North Kivu – 67 per 1,000 – is more than double the national average of 29 per 1,000.

“The study creates another compelling argument that sexual violence in the DRC is not only a grievous mass violation of human rights but is a security threat to the entire DRC,” comments Michael VanRooyen, M.D., M.P.H., Director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. “While there are certainly limitations to the use of these data, the message is important and clear: Rape in the DRC has metastasized amid a climate of impunity, and has emerged as one of the great human crises of our time.”

Dr. Palermo and the study co-authors, Amber Peterman, Ph.D., Gender and Development Specialist and Postdoctoral Fellow in the Poverty Health and Nutrition Division at the International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, D.C., and Caryn Bredenkamp, Ph.D., Health Economist in the Human Development Network, World Bank, Washington, DC., also issued a Research Brief this month on their findings.

Published through The Center for Health Services and Outcomes Research at Stony Brook University, and titled, “If Numbers Could Scream: Estimates and Determinants of Sexual Violence in the Republic of the Congo,” they write:

“These estimates demonstrate that the level of sexual violence is both magnitudes higher and more geographically dispersed than previously estimated. Compared to women in the U.S., where the Department of Justice estimates that 0.5 women are raped per 1,000 women aged 12 and up annually, our analysis shows that women in the DRC are 58 more times to be raped annually.

Further, rates of intimate partner sexual violence were also comparatively high. These findings are supported by prior research suggesting that intimate partner sexual violence is the most pervasive form of sexual violence worldwide.”

Lead study author Dr. Peterman emphasizes that their study results confirm that previous estimates of rape and sexual violence in the DRC are severe underestimates of the prevailing sexual violence occurring in the country.

“Moreover, even these new, much higher figures still represent a conservative estimate of the true prevalence of sexual violence because of chronic underreporting due to stigma, shame, perceived impunity, and exclusion of younger and older age groups as well as men,” says Dr. Peterman.

The authors suggest that direct policy implications of their findings point to the need for a stronger policy response to curb sexual violence in the DRC. The results also highlight the importance of the need for interventions cutting across geographic regions and socioeconomic levels.

About The Center for Health Services and Outcomes Research at Stony Brook UniversityPart of the Graduate Program in Public Health, Stony Brook University School of Medicine, The Center for Health Services and Outcomes Research is a multidisciplinary research unit that combines expertise in economics, statistics, epidemiology, medicine, and other clinical disciplines to address substantive issues in health care service and delivery. As part of its research mission, the Center seeks to develop joint projects with researchers at Stony Brook University, and at other research and health organizations regionally and nationally.

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