- The Washington Times - Friday, September 4, 2009

The Washington Times is running a weeklong expose beginning Tuesday titled “The Lost Story of the Lost Continent: How Rape Is Used as a Tool of War in Congo.” The 27-year-old newspaper in the nation’s capital dispatched its U.N. correspondent Betsy Pisik and award-winning photojournalist Mary Calvert for six weeks to the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo to investigate the causes and consequences of a rape epidemic that is destroying the social fabric of communities and undermining hopes that Congo can overcome its history as a failed state.

Together, they went beyond statistics to explain why the epidemic persists despite the efforts of the United Nations, the United States and myriad nongovernmental organizations. In words and photos, they also documented the victims — from small children to elderly women — the perpetrators and those who seek to heal the terrible wounds and to end the cycle of violence and impunity. Their work was funded in part by a grant Ms. Calvert obtained from the White House News Photographers Association.

“I kept reading little snippets about the Congo and all the women being gang-raped,” says Ms. Calvert, a Pulitzer finalist and winner of the 2008 Robert F. Kennedy International Journalism Award. “In the mass thicket of news, they were like someone screaming from the bottom of a well. I knew this was a story that had to be told.”

“No one knows how many Congolese women have endured sexual torture over the last decade, nor how many survived the experience,” Ms. Pisik says. “We talked to government officials, ravaged victims, their predators, and good Samaritans who try to offer material, medical, spiritual and emotional support to try to find out how a humanitarian crisis like this could spiral so far out of control.”

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The Times is committing nearly two dozen pages of its newspaper over three days to its coverage of the crisis, including an eight-page special section Tuesday tied to the first day’s front-page story. The special section is designed to introduce unfamiliar Americans to Congo, its history, its conflict, its shame and its potential for growth if it can emerge from chaos and lawlessness. The Times has created a special Web landing page to capture all of its multimedia work, including photos, video, audio and graphics and will create companion pieces on its radio and TV services.

“So much of the world has focused on the crisis in Darfur, and rightfully so. But the swath of personal destruction in Congo is exponentially bigger and its victims get disproportionately less attention,” Executive Editor John Solomon said. “We wanted to the use the power of visual storytelling to report this story in four dimensions and to give voices and names and faces to the pained victims that so few in America know about.”

The Congo series follows a similar project by the Washington-based newspaper in August that documented the rapid rise of mental illness among Katrina’s victims in New Orleans. The project was cited worldwide from the halls of Congress to the alleys of Bourbon Street and showcased the newspaper’s growing multimedia platforms on radio, television and the Web.

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