Rape as a Weapon of War

This five-part investigative series examines the brutality of sexual violence in conflict zones and the medical, humanitarian, legal, and political response to it. Originally aired on Public Radio International's "The World"  between January and June, 2008.

In August 2007, Jeb Sharp traveled to eastern Chad to report from the camps housing refugees from the conflict in Darfur, Sudan. While she was there she met a group of rape survivors. They had all been captured and enslaved by armed groups for various lengths of time. Their testimonies, and their trauma, stuck with Sharp. She began to read more about the epidemic levels of sexual violence in conflict zones around the world. She decided to embark on a reporting project to better understand where and why this kind of rape takes place, and what the medical, humanitarian, legal and political response is like. These stories are the result.


January 8, 2008 (14:09)

The story begins in eastern Congo where the scale and brutality of sexual violence is extreme. Armed groups use it to terrorize communities and control territory. Tens of thousands of women and girls have been attacked and countless lives destroyed. This piece looks at the medical response, profiling Dr. Denis Mukwege and his work treating victims of rape at Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, South Kivu Province. Panzi is known for its sophisticated surgery, but it is also known for its attention to the psychological well-being of its patients. In conjunction with Sharp's reporting, "The World’s" anchor, Lisa Mullins, interviews Dr. Julia VanRooyen about the work of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative in supporting and training doctors at Panzi Hospital.

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January 9, 2008  (5:46)

The second piece turns to the humanitarian angle, profiling the work of the International Rescue Committee and its partnership with a women’s collective in the town of Kamanyola in South Kivu Province. The collective has been instrumental in helping rape survivors recover and rebuild their lives, through support groups, political activism and economic development projects. Unfortunately, the collective’s work is small compared to the scale of the problem.

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February 19, 2008  (15:14)

The third piece turns to the legacy of rape from the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. It’s thought that the majority of the Tutsi women who survived the genocide were raped by Hutu fighters. Thousands of them bore children as a result. Those children, and their mothers, now live at the margins of Rwandan society. Sharp surveys the long-term trauma experienced by victims and profile efforts to help them. In a conjunction with Sharp's reporting, "The World’s" anchor, Lisa Mullins, delves further into the topic by interviewing Charli Carpenter, an expert on children born of sexual violence in conflict zones.

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February 20, 2008  (6:34)

Another legacy of rape during the Rwandan genocide is the lack of justice for the victims. Rape was taken seriously as a terrible genocide crime, and as such it was put in the very top category for prosecution. But that meant it was designated for the regular court system rather than the more informal proceedings of the gacaca system, which was created to deal with the genocide and has processed cases relatively quickly. Part of the reasoning was that rape victims should be afforded special protections to shield them from additional trauma or retribution. But Rwanda’s court system never recovered from the genocide, and the rape cases have languished.  This story examines Rwanda’s controversial proposal to reverse its decision and fast track thousands of remaining rape cases to the more informal gacaca courts.

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June 18, 2008 (5:14)

Throughout the reporting for this project, advocates continued to drive home the point that the widespread use of rape as a weapon of war in contemporary conflicts has been ignored by the powers that be. But in June 2008 that finally changed. This story reports how the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution making it explicit that rape, when it is used as a weapon of war, is a threat to peace and security.  The crisis has officially become a political issue, not just a humanitarian one.

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