DAKAR, Senegal — The number of rapes carried out by civilians in eastern Congo has increased 17-fold in the past few years, according to a study released today that finds sexual assaults long perpetrated by armed groups are spreading across the population.
The study, commissioned by the British aid group Oxfam, was conducted by specialists from Harvard University and examined more than 4,000 cases from 2004 to 2008 at Panzi Hospital in the eastern city of Bukavu.
Armed groups, including the army and Congolese and Rwandan militias, have raped tens of thousands of women in the war-ravaged nation, but the research found that 38 percent of rapes were committed by civilians in 2008, compared with less than 1 percent in 2004.
“This study confirms what has only been reported anecdotally until now: Sexual violence has become more normal in civilian life,’’ said Susan Bartels, chief researcher from the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative.
The report, titled “Now, the World is Without Me,’’ said few places were safe for victims.
About 56 percent of sexual assaults surveyed were carried out by armed men in the presence of the victim’s families, including their children. Around 16 percent were reported in fields, and 15 percent in forests.
Sexual slavery also was reported by 12 percent of the women surveyed.