Their stories are terrible and their suffering continues. Yet their strength inspires. Scottish photographer Angie Catlin was commissioned by SCIAF to document projects the Scottish charity supports in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which helps women and girls affected by sexual violence. It is through the support of these grass root community organisations – providing medical care, trauma counselling, legal aid and support to help women recover and become financially independent – that healing can begin. Sexual violence in the DR Congo is the focus of the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund's WEE BOX appeal this year. Here are the stories of the brave women she met.


Angela is now 29 years old and was in a loving marriage. Her husband had a well-paid job and her young family had a bright future – until the night their home was attacked by armed men.

“I married Malcom in 2009 when I was 18 years old and we loved each other. We had four children. He was a driver and went to Goma where he found a job in the beer company. There, he was earning well, around $500 a month. It was a good life. We decided to come back to our village to start a small business brewing beer locally.

"We were back in the village for only three weeks when my husband was killed by armed men. He was shot in my presence. They came to the village, at night. They went to someone else’s house and the man told the rebels 'Wait, I’ll show you who has got money', and he brought them to our house. My husband said he did not have any money, they then killed him and I was raped by nine men.

"The children were asleep, but they woke them up to make them watch. They saw everything. After this I suffered too much, mentally and physically. I wasted away. Five months later, I went to the hospital to see the doctor. I was told I have HIV.

“Nobody wants to be near me. People are talking about me and I don’t live in peace. I am stigmatised and my children are too. What makes me suffer the most is that I came from Goma with my husband to start a new life and build a future together. It’s very hard.

“The children still feel insecure and sometimes refuse to eat. If they hear a loud bang they start trembling. Other children say to them “Your father was killed and your mother was raped”. They say “She has HIV so maybe you do too”. Nobody plays with my children.

“I have received support to start a business selling doughnuts so that I can earn a living. I also receive medical treatment for my HIV and counselling to help me recover. For my future, I think only of my children and how they can grow and how I can continue with my business.”


Bernadette is 60 years old. Ten years ago, armed men attacked her village and committed terrible atrocities.

“Life was very, very good. We were cultivating, the fields were fertile. We had ground nut, rice, vegetables, palm oil. We ate well and we sold the surplus and made money from potatoes and cassava. Things changed ten years’ ago. It had been quiet all day. During the night we heard shooting. We didn’t know what was happening. The enemy got into houses, killing people. The government army was not present.

“They came and got into my house. They took me in the bushes with others – my three brothers, two cousins, my son, myself and other women, maybe as many as 20. That night they made a fire with wood, so that we could see who was next to us.

“They started killing all the men. They cut the people in pieces as if cutting a goat or a chicken and put the pieces in piles. We could see by the light of the fire. They bound us together and told us to go into the bush. They told us to take off all our clothes. They put us on our hands and knees and raped us.

“I cried and they beat me with a knife. They wanted to kill me, but a rebel said 'Don’t kill her yet, they have to eat the meat first', pointing at the piles of people they had just killed.

“Just then we heard shooting and saw the rebels running away. We realised it was the government army. The rebels ran away. We started untying ourselves. We came back to the village, and I was bleeding from everywhere. My husband was told of what had happened and went to get the children. But they were missing. We still don’t know what happened to them.

“I was able to get to the health clinic in the next village. I went to three different hospitals because of my extensive injuries. It was a miracle from God because I don’t know how I could have survived. The programme has really benefitted me. I don’t know what I would have done without it. We can eat. I have bought a plot of land and am able to pay healthcare fees which I couldn’t afford before.”


In February 2019, six women travelled through the forest on foot to trade local produce in a larger town. Before they could reach the town, three men attacked and raped each women. Joan, 52 years old, was one of these women.

“I am a trader and we were taking produce, cassava and palm oil, to sell. It usually takes three days to go there and back. We travelled through the forest. On the way we met some Congolese men and they raped us and left me on the ground.

“A group of other people came and they heard me crying. I had been there for about three hours. We went with them. I didn’t know where the other four women I was with went. The following day I was informed about a SCIAF’s trauma centre.

“I have had a lot of help with counselling and with my medical treatment. I live alone with my children and have also been given a goat and help to start farming. People in my village know what has happened to me. Sometimes they laugh at me and others understand because they have also suffered. What gives me strength is when I participate in the women’s group and listen to stories of what has happened to others.

“Before, I had a small but successful business which helped me survive with my children. But now I cannot continue to with my trade in the larger towns and other profitable areas because I am afraid. I live in permanent fear. Sometimes there is shooting in the village. My neighbour was recently attacked by thieves with weapons and they looted everything she had. When I heard the noise I was frightened. I long for peace


Sylvia, 41, was abducted from her village by armed men in 1998, during the DR Congo’s brutal war.

“I was in the field. There were eight of them, they came with guns. There was no way we could run away. I was so afraid I couldn’t move. Others were carried away. Those who ran were shot. They made me walk and they hit me on the back with the butt of their guns. I left everything. When we arrived in a neighbouring village they looted everything and made us carry everything.

“We went with them. If you said you were tired, they would say ‘OK, you want to rest?’ and they would shoot you. I saw two people shot like this. We were all afraid. I saw so many people die I don’t even remember a number. They were beating us all day long. Sometimes we would not eat. If you were lucky the chief would take you and they wouldn’t beat you – you were a little protected.

“From there I escaped and for one week I was in hiding. I said I was going to fetch water and he knew I was very far from home so thought I wouldn’t leave. I escaped because I was thinking about my family – my two-month old baby. I had no news of them. I wanted to see my three children and husband. I knew the chief came looking for me but didn’t find me. I walked on foot for one month with no food. My feet were very swollen.

“When I arrived home I found my mum had died. My young child had died at three months. My husband had married another woman. I met my husband and we talked. He said ‘I don’t know if we can live together’. He said he didn’t know where I had been. I went to the hospital and I was there for three weeks. I received counselling. When I went back to the village again my husband said he could not stay with two wives and he didn’t want me – he stayed with her.

“When I remember what I have experienced I feel very bad. This life was the worst. Through this programme, the counselling I received helped very much. It hurt me so much because I remembered what I had experienced but after this I was feeling hurt but not as bad as before.

“We started also learning new sustainable farming techniques. We started with a vegetable garden. With the veg we grow now we sell it in the market and with the money can educate my children, buy what I need and also save. Now the challenge I face is that I really want my daughter to finish school.”


Pauline's husband was killed and she was sexually abused by the same armed men. She is now 37 years old and is putting the pieces of her life back together.

“One night in 2014, we were at home and at around 8pm we heard a lot of noise outside. We didn’t know what was happening. My husband went outside to see – he was captured. He was raped and then they cut off his sexual parts. They took it in their hands and said “You are no longer a man”. He was crying. Then they cut out his heart.

“Six men then pushed me into the house and raped me. I wanted to flee. The older children ran but the little ones were left behind and started crying. I remember that my oldest child witnessed it all – he was just seven years old. He thought they were killing me, he didn’t understand.

“I was there without any strength, lying down. No strength to cover myself. I was ashamed. I was there crying, ashamed and no strength to ask for help. After the soldiers had gone, a group of people found me and brought me to hospital. They also buried my husband and I never got to see him.

“It was midnight by the time I was brought to hospital. My neighbours had made a stretcher and carried me for two hours on foot to the health centre. There were so many people. We found the doctors had also fled. Everything had been abandoned. The doctors returned in the morning when it was safe. They gave me tablets and my stomach was very big – this reduced the swelling. I fell pregnant from the rape but the child died. It was a boy.

“Life has changed. With help from SCIAF, I have been able to take a loan and start a small business. So, when I come back from the market, I take a little money to eat, a little to save and a little for school fees.

“I have three children in school. Before we ate one meal a day – now we eat three times. We used to eat things like cassava leaves, but I had no oil to put with it. Now we eat amaranth with ground nut, potatoes and cabbage which is nutritious. And what is more, in the past I used to collect water far away and face the danger of being raped again. Now we have water in the village. We are all involved in the water committee. Life is better now.”


Thousands of women and girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo need your help. Sexual violence and rape are widespread. Decades of conflict have left a legacy of brutality and lawlessness in many areas. SCIAF is working with local partners to provide medical care including surgery so women and girls can get treatment for their injuries, trauma counselling, legal assistance so they can prosecute their attackers, and help to become financially independent so they can support themselves and their families.

GIVE NOW at or call SCIAF on 0141 354 5555. This year, your £1 = £2. Give before 20th May and your donation will be doubled by the UK government.