Rape and Conflict Minerals: Photographer takes on the technology industry through art

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fretwell photo

credit: Sarah Fretwell

How did you get started with your work with women in Africa?

I’m a passionate advocate for human rights, and ever since traveling in Africa a decade ago, I’ve wanted to return. One day I heard an excerpt on “Democracy Now!” about a village in the Congo that was held hostage for two weeks while more than 200 women and girls were raped repeatedly by “rebels,” without any intervention from the government or the UN. I was outraged—and I couldn’t fathom why the world hadn’t made a bigger deal of this. I had been tracking the crisis in the Congo for years, but that was my “Enough” moment.

Frustrated by media reports that lacked depth and insight, I wanted to know the whole truth. Why does this situation continue to get worse and worse and why it is allowed to continue? I had nightmares that I was supposed to go. I realized I could no longer stand by and just watch. I had a calling to go to record the stories from the lives of those most impacted by the chaos, and to learn the “truth” from the perspective of those living the conflict.

Through Amy Ernst, a friend’s cousin that was working as a rape crisis counselor in the Congo, I was able to connect with COPERMA – an all-Congolese NGO. They agreed to host me so I could apply for a visa. As impossible factors came together, I was clear I was supposed to go.

Four months later, at the first interview we conducted, a spokeswoman for the community pulled me aside, and said “If we are going to share our stories with you, you have to promise us one thing. You have to take our stories and share them with everyone you can find, so the world will know the extent of our suffering.”

I will never forget the moment the enormity of that agreement struck me, but I looked her in the eyes and said, “I promise.”

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