Recently I watched a film called "The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo. It took place in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and it was NOT a fiction piece. It is a documentary film, filmed almost exclusively on location in Africa by a film maker who herself was gang raped as a young woman. Within the first 20 minutes of the film she talks about her personal experience. While it was terrible and traumatic, sharing her experience enabled her to gain the trust of her subjects. The film maker explains that in Congo, the culture is strongly unsympathetic to rape victims. They are disowned not just by their spouses and boyfriends, but by their families, friends, even other women! The general consensus is, "she must have wanted it, encouraged it, or at least not fought hard enough." It was very painful to watch the women talk about all they had lost. The ironic thing is that such a huge percentage of the women in this society have been raped. You would think there was no one left to point a finger, and yet those lucky few who have not been molested are mostly not helpful to the victims.

The film is called "The greatest silence," because no one, male or female really wants to talk about what is going on. The country has been thrust into a nightmarish bloody civil war. Infrastructure is challenged. The police arrest men for rape only to see them let go for lack of testimony. The number of police is few, and female police officers even fewer. The privacy in a policy office is limited, making women even less enthusiastic about reporting rapes. Children are born and often abandoned from these rapes. One of the points a doctor makes in the film is that rapes so far exceed anything he has ever seen in number, in violence, in damage to the victim. Most of them are gang raped by soldiers. Some women are then mutilated and dismembered and killed. Many die from lack of available medical care. Many die slow horrific deaths as their internal organs have been so destroyed. It was truly a difficult film to watch.

A few of the men who admitted to gang raping women were interviewed for this film. One of them explains he "can't help" what he does. He justified his violence by explaining after being out in the war zone for so long he needed relief. If a woman says "no," he has no choice but to force himself on her. Another man explained that the soldiers have a religious belief that raping and over powering a woman would give them extra strength in battle. That man said the women ought to consider themselves as doing good for the country of Congo. The women I viewed the movie with took issue with these justifications. "They don't explain," one viewer pointed out, "why they need to destroy a woman's internal organs or mutilate her body."

I observed that the men who were interviewed for the movie appeared to be suffering from shell shock. I believe the post traumatic stress disorder might have been driving their extraordinary violence. Their eyes had a glazed over look. Their speech was detached. I would imagine that if a person saw bloody hand to hand combat day after day, week after week a need to dominate someone else might relieve other feelings of helplessness. That doesn't make it right, or even helpful, I'm only speculating on a connection between the two.

A doctor who worked in a clinic that repaired women with such injuries was interviewed. He did NOT appear shell shocked. He had what we might consider a much more "normal" reaction to the atrocities. He was appalled, dismayed, truly sad, confused about what sort of person, what sort of animal, would do such harm to another human being. It was heartening to see a person in a position to help actually helping, doing all he could despite being clearly overwhelmed.

Unfortunately I don't think the producer pushed home her point far enough. After the movie ended one of the women I watched the movie with who was of African descent felt very defensive. She spent some time explaining to the group how unusual the violence was, how far removed from normal cultural values. She told us that normally women in Africa are valued above men, and that many societies were matriarchal. I have no way of confirming or denying that fact. I felt sorry that the movie made her so defensive.

Another man interviewed was a Catholic priest. He too was saddened by what he saw happening in his country to his people. He admitted it was hard for him to run a parish in an area with so much need and so little resources. I think the movie producer was trying to show that violence against women was not a natural African trait, nor a Congolese cultural value by interviewing good men as well as the perpetrators. Close to the end of the movie she interviewed her translator. She filmed him at home with his wife and children. He appeared to be like any father, protective and loving toward his daughters.