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Collective Shame and Rape as a Weapon of War in Walungu Region of the Democratic Republic of Congo

This article was written by:

Cynthia Grguric,

International Psychologist, PhD.


War rape is a historical silent reality since antiquity; however, modern media exposure to the brutal war rapes occurring in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have only recently gained its attention. Members of affected communities often express more rejection of the victims themselves than for the crime.  This victim rejection and displaced shame, is evident by husbands, mothers, and communities who reject these raped women.  Individual rape portrayed as collective shame is what motivates the present study through the examination of international psychology, feminist theory, and the social theory cycle of shame inducing the need to overcome group powerlessness by rejection of the rape victims.  Previous studies indicated empathy, image shame, and self-pity positively correlate with efforts for reparation with an oppressed group. 

Cynthia performed a mixed method study analyzing the correlating factors for reparation with Congolese war rape victims with empathy for the victim’s trauma, self-pity for the Congolese perceived victimization from the war, and Congolese image shame due to their role in the war.  


The results indicated that victim empathy and image shame correlated with motivations to repair or compensate the rape victims; however, feelings of self-pity did not. It also showed a strong sense of victim helplessness and lack of national identity. The implications are that educational interventions addressing national shame rooted in trauma history and collective empathy could influence motivations for reparations. Such implications could help ameliorate community and family victim rejection resulting in isolation, lack of medical and mental care, and the breakdown of society. 


With these complex global conflicts in Africa, Middle East intertwined with deep rooted national trauma history and perpetrator-victim cycles of violence being an ongoing reality, it is critical to address national trauma history, perpetrator-victim cycles, and empathy in forming interventions. Cynthia along with colleague Dr LeAnn Dehoff is continuing her research on national identity and the meaning of war with Syrian refugees in Turkey.

- Grguric, C. (2015). Collective Shame and Rape as a Weapon of War in the Walungu Region of the DRC.  

Full study available by request.

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