JOHANNESBURG - More needs to be done to deal with an epidemic of rape in the world's conflict zones and to help victimized women, Doctors Without Borders said Thursday, reporting that its staffers alone treat an average of 35 cases every day.
Meinie Nicolai, director for the medical aid group in Belgium, said rape is being used as a weapon of war in Congo, runs rampant in impoverished South African townships and is an increasingly common experience of Zimbabwean refugees.
The "silent epidemic of sexual violence" has devastating effects on women that last a lifetime, Nicolai said.
The group, also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres, said it was concerned because few victims of sexual violence seek medical care immediately because they fear stigmatization or worry about retaliation by their attackers.
On a visit this week to Musina, a town on South Africa's border with Zimbabwe, The Associated Press spoke with a number of Zimbabwean women who told of being raped after fleeing their chaotic homeland.
One 19-year-old was raped while pregnant, another was held captive and abused repeatedly. Some said they were raped by taxi drivers who smuggled them into South Africa, others by men offering jobs and shelter. Many fell prey to unscrupulous guides who lead people across the crocodile-infested Limpopo River and through holes in the border fence.
Doctors Without Borders said it helped more than 12,000 rape victims at 127 projects around the globe in 2007 - some 35 women a day. Half were minors, the report said. Comparative figures for other years were not available, but Nicolai said the numbers were "not decreasing."
"A coordinated approach between organizations involved in medical, legal and social support can best bring relief to those who experience the trauma of rape and other sexual violence," the group's report said.