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Rape and Sexual Assault

The Padlocked Vagina — Rape as Torture in the Congo


“To intensify the cruelty, soldiers are even shooting women in the vagina, destroying their systems so completely that numerous operations are necessary—and even then repair may not be possible.”

By Suki Falconberg

“Go where you are least welcome; it is where you are most needed.”
–Abigail Kelley Foster

Of the many rape zones on Rape Planet Earth, the Congo is currently the most savage. After gang raping women and girls, soldiers are piercing their labia and padlocking their vaginas shut. Hot plastic as well as sticks and bayonets are being inserted into the women. Six-month-old girls have been raped to death.

Gang rapes are so severe that many women are suffering from fistula (the tearing of the vaginal wall so that the contents of the colon and urine seep in). Unable to reach medical care, some women are dying of massive infections. Even if the women do reach a doctor, fistula is very hard to repair—few practitioners can do it.

To intensify the cruelty, soldiers are even shooting women in the vagina, destroying their systems so completely that numerous operations are necessary—and even then repair may not be possible.

Despite how horrifying all this seems, there is nothing new Under the Rape Sun. ‘Fistula Rape,’ I call it—needing to find my own vocabulary for a reality rarely written about. The Romans, at one time, inflicted it on women in wartime. The Japanese were masters at it—the soldiers own photos of Nanking show naked, dead Chinese women in the streets, objects like pitchforks shoved into them.

Nothing new, either, about “sexual terrorism,” the use of women’s bodies as battlefields for male cruelty, for political ends—we have seen it all before, in Bangladesh, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur. (And now in Iraq.)

Anderson Cooper, reporting on the ‘fistula rapes’ in the Congo on a recent 60 Minutes (13 Jan. 2008) asks why men do this? It is a huge question. As a gentle woman, I have no answer. Do you men hate us women so much that you have to destroy our vaginas and our wombs, the very source of life itself?

But this article is not really about fistula rape or the Congo or that huge question in the previous paragraph. It is about the Padlocked Vagina and about my place in this confusing world. I am what is called a ‘dissident’ voice. I am a woman who speaks against those who inflict sexual suffering (whether it be in the Congo or in Iraq). As such, I am, according to my government, a terrorist.

Previously, the American Congress labeled me one when they passed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. It condemned me for speaking up for the other animals species we torture by the billions (in factory farms and in labs, for example). Now the “Thought Police” are promoting a Homegrown Terrorism Bill (H.R. 1955/S. 1959) that tells me my ‘dissident’ voice is a danger to my country.

My take on all this is hardly original: A democracy is strong precisely because of its dissident voices. All Americans should nod to me, in approval, or maybe even clap for me–with high rejoicing–that I speak up. I don’t want my vagina to be padlocked next. It has been through enough.

To not sound too corny, as an American I cherish my rights. That first amendment is precious beyond gold and diamonds to me. (Never mind that I never buy gold and diamonds because of the exploitative way they are mined and marketed—it is the metaphor I am after here.) Being a woman of little courage, I tremble every time I exercise my first amendment right to be a dissident voice. But I am aware that I live in a country that, so far, has let me speak—loudly, dissidently—without imprisonment, torture, or execution.

When I saw this photo  [Warning, May Trigger] of the Congolese woman being held down, the most sensitive area of her body being pieced, it was like having cold water thrown on me. It was a wake-up call. I don’t want to be that next padlocked vagina. I sit in comfort, in front of my computer. I am relatively safe—no immediate threats of physical violence, no one beating me up. Despite having known some severe sexual mistreatment in the past (like gang rape and being a ‘dirty joke’ to a lot of men since I sold sex, once, a long time ago), I realized, when I saw this picture, that at least I was not having my vagina padlocked. What a joy! To sit here, with the freedom to write–and an unpadlocked vagina, too! This is true happiness.

After I write this article, I can get up and take my dog for a walk. No bleeding, infected, padlocked vagina holding me back. Then I can come home, to a warm, safe room, out of the winter chill, and give Boromir (that’s my dog’s name) a treat and we can both sit by the fireplace—me with a (vegan) buttered English muffin and hot chocolate (vegan) by my side–and watch an old movie on TV. I can sip my cocoa and pet his big, comforting body (having a big dog makes a cowardly woman like me feel safe).

I have to keep being a dissident voice in order to keep Boromir safe and myself safe and my vagina free from being padlocked.

Suki Falconberg, © 2008

Suki is an ex-prostitute and a contributing writer for Cyrano’s Journal Online. Her novel, Tender Bodies and Whore Stories, an erotic fantasy with a satiric edge set in the world of military prostitution, is available at The sequel, Comfort the Comfort Women, is also available at that site.


Suki e-mailed this article to me with permission to publish it.  You’ll recall her powerful letter to Ken Burns which I published not long ago.  — Heart

Sokari has written of rape in the Congo here and here.



23 thoughts on “The Padlocked Vagina — Rape as Torture in the Congo

  1. That level of viciousness is so horrifying I can’t rationalize or comprehend it.

    I don’t even know what to write about it other than to acknowledge it.

    What can we do?

    Posted by Gayle | January 24, 2008, 2:24 am
  2. Holy shit!

    I came here to post the same question Gayle has asked: what can we do? I mean, really, *what can we do*?


    I’ll go to bed with a heavy heart tonight.

    Posted by Laur | January 24, 2008, 4:43 am
  3. I have one more question.

    What has sparked the “soldiers” do perform these brutalizations? This has been going on for quite awhile, now, correct? What do “they” want? What are they hoping to get out of this violence beyond comprehension?

    Posted by Laur | January 24, 2008, 4:49 am
  4. No words come… only shock… when seeing a picture like this.

    How can this be? How can I be freely sitting *here*… and that woman being held down *there*? How can this be in existence in today’s world?

    There’s another woman being held down *here* too, probably within miles of my house. I just don’t know it… or her. She’s probably being raped tonight and I’m not hearing her screams.

    How can that be in existence in today’s world either?!

    I guess words did come, didn’t they?! But certainly not the words I would have uttered even a year ago. I’m too tired for anger now. It’s more words of deep dark sadness.

    Somehow my anger didn’t work back then. At least the sadness feels like it’s doing something in my soul. There’s a unity there, with these women, that anger didn’t produce.

    I MUST believe that there’s a heaven, Heart. It’s the only thing that keeps me going. There must be a heaven where I will see all these women somday and will be able to hold them and love their past pains away.


    Love~ LearningOne

    Posted by LearningOne | January 24, 2008, 7:09 am
  5. I posted MSNBC’s article about this “Congo’s Wounds of War” on my LiveJournal way back before I kept my blog (which reminds me, I need to transfer over all those old posts). It makes me completely fucking sick. 😦

    Posted by Anji | January 24, 2008, 9:30 am
  6. the western men that i know think that this kind of thing is non-existent. they don’t understand that all women everywhere feel the pain of these tortured sisters and maybe THAT’S why we’re so damn emotional!

    i’m not sure what to do for these tortured women other than look to them as inspiration to help tortured women that i live closer to.

    i’m with you, LearningOne, there must be a heaven-like-place that these women will reside in peace at final last. i also hope that there is a hell-like-place that the torturers will go back to.

    Posted by avril joy | January 24, 2008, 7:11 pm
  7. I’m with you, LearningOne. If I didn’t believe in the possibility of a more merciful existence than this one, I probably would be immobilized with depression, knowing what happens to women, children, and animals at the hands of truly demonic beings like those who perpetuate this sort of atrocity–and as Falconberg points out, always have across many cultures.

    Laur wonders what the perps expect to get from this cruelty; I think it’s too flattering to assign “higher” political strategy to this behavior. It’s the bloodlust of beings free to do to the defenseless whatever they want to do. What they get out of it is a kick, a surge of power, a shot of energy, that is addictive and unfettered. It is sheer hierarchy of power; it is total abuse with no one to disapprove or stop it.

    Humanoids hate, resent, and want to hurt those whom they perceive to be their betters. They kill moral prophets and saints, and the male humanoids fistula rape women and girls, who by a huge percentage are better beings than their torturers. What a stinking species we are on the whole, and often our males in particular.

    I’ve always had a weakness for end-of-the-human-race movies. These films are supposed to be OMG terrifying prospects, but if humans could somehow all die leaving the planet and all extant plant and animal species to live on and recover from us, I think it would be a good, good thing. I am sick of us.

    Posted by Level Best | January 24, 2008, 8:03 pm
  8. Like having cold water dumped on you…

    Or the feeling of your heart momentarily stopping like going over the first dive of a rollercoaster, for me…


    Posted by whatsername | January 25, 2008, 7:12 am
  9. LearningOne writes:

    “There must be a heaven where I will see all these women somday and will be able to hold them and love their past pains away.”

    😦 That’s a beautiful thought; I worry there isn’t and these precious women will never receive the love and care they so desperately deserve. 😦

    Level Best, I appreciate your thoughts on “why.” From what I understand you to be saying, there is no “why.” It’s just the death-beating hierarchy of patriarchy in action, cruel and simple.

    I don’t get it. What is being done about this situation??? So, the U.S. will “free” the women of Afghanistan (only when their so-called “freedom” works in our favor, of course), but when women are getting raped and mutilated by the thousand, where’s the governmental outcry?

    Not that I’ve ever placed the tiniest bit of trust in the U.S. government…

    Posted by Laur | January 25, 2008, 7:19 am
  10. I don’t know what to say, but I’m sitting here crying. I want to do more than sit and cry. But right now, I’m just crying.

    Posted by Eeni B Bella | January 25, 2008, 2:08 pm
  11. I’ve been mulling over my thoughts about this since yesterday because I had a real problem with the views Suki expressed. It took me until now to be able to put into words exactly what that problem is. So I’ll just say it:

    The wymmyn in Africa are not being raped. To call it rape is insulting beyond words.

    What is being done to them is so far beyond rape that to label it as such trivializes their suffering and lets the monsters that do these things to them off far to easy. Most of us here are rape victims, I think. Or at the very least we know a few. Point is, we know how traumatic the experience is. How dare we compare that experience to what the Congolese wymmyn have been through? It’s insulting to think our experience is anything like theirs.

    Posted by Hecate | January 26, 2008, 6:01 am
  12. Yeah, I think you’re right, Hecate. It’s similar to the way the rapes for genocide in the former Yugoslavia or in Rwanda were not the same as other kinds of rape during wartime.

    These are atrocities agains women for which we do not have words. All we can do is use the words we have, even though they cannot adequately contain the horror we are attempting to communicate.

    Posted by womensspace | January 26, 2008, 9:26 pm
  13. I don’t even know what to write about it other than to acknowledge it.

    What can we do?

    Oh, man, I wish I’d actually gotten around to writing that post–it’s in my “saved drafts,” just started…I’d link to it…

    Anyway, one thing you can do is be VERY careful about the stainless steel you buy. And high-end medical devices. These things have “niobium,” and although it’s not the only coveted resource, it’s one of the big ones that German and other Western companies are paying army generals to keep the Eastern Congo unused over (so that there’s no one local trying to pick off niobium from the mine and sell it on their own, for example).

    See, the reason this leads to war crimes is that the companies pay the general well enough for 1 person but don’t pay the army. They tell the general, “You do whatever you want to to get the money to pay your soldiers. Just get the locals the hell out of this area.” So the generals say to their soldiers, “No pay, but take everything you can and consider it your pay!”

    Anyway, as I said, niobium isn’t the only thing–some plants, even, are part of this. Here’s one way to tell–if you look it up and it’s often exported out of Rwanda but there isn’t even enough growing or under the ground in Rwanda for Rwanda to have that much to export, it’s pretty much coming from raping-army-protected plantations & mines in Eastern Congo. (So be careful about your coffee, too.)

    Does that make you feel more powerful? Like there’s something you can do to change the situation? I know it’s not going over there and throwing yourself between a soldier and a woman, but…it’s probably the best thing we can do. Starving the companies paying the generals of our consumer money.

    Posted by Katie | January 29, 2008, 1:25 am
  14. Geez, maybe Clinton and Obama can talk about this sometime soon!

    Perhaps women will simply have to arm themselves and have armies of their own to defend themselves after any political upheaval all over the world. Maybe men are the enemy of women; it sure looks like this.

    We have a very evil species out there, and I see no sense of awareness at all. Men don’t stop men from raping, they don’t even stand up to men with offensive sweatshirts. I have never heard men shouting down other men for doing any of this stuff.

    Men stand by and continue to benefit from this terrorism against women all over the world. The thing is, women seem to remain unprepared for these wars of aggression against them time and time again. Do we need a UN force of women warriors to go in and round up the raping soldiers?

    Posted by Satsuma | April 8, 2008, 10:34 pm
  15. On the rape in Congo: I feel ashamed as a human being

    Posted by Bomkesh | May 25, 2008, 6:20 am
  16. What on the earth UN is doing.

    Posted by Kazi anwar | August 15, 2008, 9:09 am
  17. It’s difficult to know what to say when faced with something that is so awful beyond words.

    I arrived at this page by typing into Google, ‘Can rape be considered torture?’, as part of research for an essay on the killing of women in the name of honour. Well, I found my answer, and wonder now how I could have asked such a stupid question in the first place.

    A post above by Hecate suggested that rape was somehow an insufficient term for such violence. Perhaps torture is.

    As a man I recognise that many men do not sufficiently (or even at all) condemn rape, or other forms of sexual violence. I have always thought that I did condemn it, but this serves as a blunt reminder (to me, if to no one else) that it does need to be condemned, and loudly.

    I think it’s easy for people to be unaware that such horrors still exist in the world, that all of this somehow stopped after the 2nd World War. The worst of it all is that these men have complete impunity for their crimes, Congo is in such a mess that even if it wanted to it would not be able to prosecute them.

    So I think the best thing anyone can do to stop this is simply to draw attention to it to the widest public possible, to make sure that people know that this can and does happen. For all their many faults, there are now criminal tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and an international criminal court, and there are people working to bring these evil men to justice.

    Posted by Chris Burnett | November 18, 2008, 9:35 pm
  18. hi
    friends the crime arises when we are afraid.never let fear step into your life. women have to unite and become a force. if men can be in gang why cant you. if they can force you can also force. be your saviour. dont wait for some one to come from somewhere and then save you.get up and take action.but not for revenge or out of anger. action of practical temperament. remember action speaks faster then words.

    Posted by nivs | February 12, 2009, 6:05 pm


  1. Pingback: The Padlocked Vagina — Rape as Torture in the Congo~from Women’s Space… « Sparkle*Matrix - January 24, 2008

  2. Pingback: Gang Rapes in the Congo - January 25, 2008

  3. Pingback: Rape « The Apostate - January 28, 2008

  4. Pingback: Free Soil Party Blog » Blog Archive » Rape as a Weapon of War - April 7, 2008

  5. Pingback: Little Miss Brightside » Blog Archive » Bet You Didn’t Know that 2,200 Congolese Women Were Raped in June - August 4, 2008

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