The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo

By Lisa Moricoli-Latham

If ever there were a film that ought to be required viewing for the readers of Bitch, it would be Lisa F. Jackson's The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo, which premiered on HBO last night. And not for the bleeding-heart liberal reasons that instantly spring to mind.

Everyone should see this film, but not because rape is bad and an easy issue to get behind. Not because Jackson, herself a survivor of a gang rape in her early twenties, shot it, did sound, edited, produced, and directed it herself. Not because the Congolese gang-rape victims in the film are so poor and so voiceless that their state goes beyond mere disenfranchisement to the point where the status of the untouchable in India seems lofty by comparison. Not because they are victims of a war strategy (as opposed to a war crime, a word that carries far too incidental a connotation for the systematic gang-rape visited upon tens of thousands of Congolese women by several armies, both foreign and domestic, across their nation). Not because of the dehumanizing, knee-jerk Neander-feminist "reasoning" that "all men are rapists," and not because women's procreative, nurturing and agricultural power determines the direction and health of a nation.

The systematic gang-rape epidemic by its various competing armies and militias is so bad across Congo that after seeing the film, the sexual slavery visited upon one group of twenty-odd women midway through the film seems almost kind by comparison. At least the cadre of soldiers that enslaved those women contained the trauma, ruining the health and lives of "only" those twenty-odd and their couple of dozens of children (the soldiers in that situation terminated many of the resultant pregnancies by kicking their swollen bellies and forcing the women's previous children to stand on them). By contrast, we meet soldiers from other armies in their late teens and early twenties who have raped twenty to twenty-five different women, each.

And why do they do it? Why do these soldiers do to dozens of women what they would kill others for doing to the women of their own families? Mostly, because they can, but also because they are encouraged to do so by their officers. A destabilized Congo cannot stand up to the smugglers who steal over a million dollars of its mineral wealth each day. (In addition to gold and diamonds, Congo has over 80% of the world reserves of a mineral that makes cell phones and laptops work; the question of how integrated this gang-rape system is in the business plans of certain American corporations like Motorola, Dell, Apple, and others has been posed everywhere from international news sources like Pan-African News Wire to, more recently, naming-and-shaming call-to-action posts on Diary of an Anxious Black Woman, The Sowing Circle, and more.) A destabilized Congo cannot stand up against the invasion of Rwandan Interhamwe militiamen across its border (the ones who machete'd their way across the Hutu-Tutsi populations in their recent civil war). A destabilized Congo will cough up any amount of "tolls" and other extortions to support armies that go unpaid for months at a time.

We should not all see this film because it shows us both how utterly lucky we are, and how unfortunate at the same time. Yes, we can give thanks that "there but for the grace of God go I," and simultaneously recognize how we suffer from our shallow news culture. We as readers of pop culture worry every day about the meaning of a billboard campaign by a soap company, yet our hermetic media bubble is so complete that we don't even know about the Congolese women, whose story ought to stand in infamy beside that of the women of Darfur. We should all see this film and ask, as it does, "Why is the telling of such a story so rare?"

A complete schedule of HBO broadcasts is here.

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