Activist discusses sexual violence in the Congo

USC STAND, the Anti-Genocide Coalition, hosted its main event of the semester featuring award-winning photojournalist Sarah Fretwell Thursday night.

Speaking out · Human rights activist and photojournalist Sarah Fretwell spoke about sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. - Jessica Zhou | Daily Trojan

Speaking out · Human rights activist and photojournalist Sarah Fretwell spoke about sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. – Jessica Zhou | Daily Trojan

STAND focuses on social issues that occur around the world. The group’s president Francesca Bessey, a junior studying international relations, said the university’s organization focuses specifically on the events happening in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

STAND is a student-led movement that works across campuses to end genocide. Originally founded to end the genocide in Darfur, Sudan, the organization now fights against all genocides currently happening in the world.

Much of Fretwell’s work shares the same focus and goals as the organization. Her most recent project, “The Truth Told Project,” shares the stories of female rape victims in the North Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo in hopes of raising awareness for women.

“I heard about a news report about a small village in North Kivu that had been held captive for two weeks by rebel troops. And during that time, they systematically raped 200 women and five small girls,” Fretwell said. “I was outraged. I couldn’t fathom how the world had let this happen. How had I let this happen? It was my ‘enough’ moment.”

Fretwell offered the audience historical context, explaining how much of the conflict in the Congo region stems from its wealth of natural resources, specifically its rich minerals, which are used in technology. Her goal of exposing the consequences of using these conflict minerals is also one of STAND’s goals.

“Our chapter is currently affiliated with the Conflict-Free Campus Initiative, an international movement to engage colleges and universities in taking a strong stance against the conflict minerals trade which is financing the violence in the Congo,” Bessey said.

Fretwell discussed her determination to expose the horrors happening to the young girls and women of North Kivu through her project.

“As my plane hit the red dirt runway, the conditions [in the Congo] were so bad that one woman was raped every minute,” Fretwell said. “On a human level, I struggled to understand why it was all happening, but what I did know is that my happiness was inextricably linked to those girls and women and their ability to seek justice.”

The stories and interviews Fretwell shared left a lasting impact on many of the audience members.

“I thought the presentation was extremely impactful. The photos that Sarah took are just absolutely profound; they make an impact on just about anybody’s heart,” said Michael Tong, a sophomore majoring in business administration. “Just the way the expressions on their faces with their words over it really is going to impact the world and bring mass education to a very important subject that kids in college and just people in general don’t know about.”

Several audience members said they attended the talk in an effort to learn more about events that are not always reported in American media.

“As a USC student, I’m stuck in this USC bubble, so any opportunity to learn about how there is so much atrocity and so many terrible things out there, [or] to just get informed and do something about it and to support a group who is actually doing something about it,” said Claire Logan, a sophomore majoring in business administration.

Fretwell said getting the word out about the human rights violations happening in the Congo is her ultimate goal.

“The most important thing is that these stories have reached thousands of people around the world,” she said. “And that’s the reason the project is succeeding. It’s driving influence is that it’s not about me, it’s about helping them seek out the opportunity to seek justice.”


Follow us on Twitter @dailytrojan