Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: HBO Expose’ Sheds Light on African Country’s Violence against Women

While many people may be aware of the decade-long civil war raging in the Democratic Republic of Congo, most have no idea that one of the by-products of that brutal conflict has been the wholesale kidnapping, rape, torture and mutilation of hundreds of thousands of the nation’s women. Sadly, superstitious soldiers on both sides see females as a sort of spoil of war, and have come to rationalize mistreating them out of a sick belief that they must commit rape to defeat the enemy.
The upshot is that the land is now littered with innumerable mentally and physically traumatized women, walking wounded whose blank faces have the same 1000-yard stare found on army veterans who’ve spent too many hours exposed to battle. Bewildered and still vulnerable, they roam the countryside in search of an elusive oasis of safety in a place which only offers more violence.
Wading into the midst of this scary scenario, we find Lisa Jackson, an intrepid American filmmaker willing to risk her own life to shed light on the ongoing tragedy. Jackson can empathize because she herself had been gang-raped in Washington, DC at the age of 25. So, she understands the lingering effects of what they’ve experienced.
In this powerful documentary, The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo, she not only interviews many victims, but ventures into the jungle to confront their perpetrators as well, to see whether any feel remorse about perpetrating crimes against humanity. They don’t. One sicko thinks the practice is okay because, “God says man is superior to woman.” Another arrogantly brags that he never uses condoms when taking a woman against her will and that he thinks an herbal antidote can cure him of being HIV+.
We see that as a result of these sexual assaults, Congolese females are suffering from everything from AIDS to chronic pain to incontinence disfigurement to sleeplessness and fear. A doctor attending to the endless stream of patients says, “Every day there is a new horror.”
Typical is the despondent soul who sorrowfully recounts for the camera how her husband’s head was lopped off right in front of her, and the rest of his body chopped in half. Then, the murderer knocked out most of her teeth with the butt of his rifle before raping her right on the spot. Jackson shows how the problem appears to be intractable, because even when apprehended, attackers rarely spend any time behind bars, since rape has become a culturally-accepted, even encouraged lifestyle.
The expose’ closes by them assessing the Congo’s prospects pessimistically, given that one of the best ways of judging a society is by how highly, or in this case lowly, it regards its women. For, when its women are being systematically raped without recourse, the whole country is being affected.
A chilling reminder of why John Lennon once wrote a song entitled, “Woman is the [N-word] of the World.”

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated TV-MA for profanity, violence, nudity and adult content.
In English, French and Swahili with subtitles.
Running time: 76 minutes
Studio: HBO-TV

Rape in the Congo premieres on HBO at 10 PM (EST/PST) on Tuesday, April 8th (check local listings)

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