Tears in the Congo: Jean Chung Returns to DRC Five Years Later

Between 2008 and 2009, award-winning photojournalist Jean Chung traveled through the Democratic Republic of Congo to document sexual violence. In the resulting series, Tears in the Congo: Sexual Violence in the DRC, she captured the strength and bravery of women who gave birth after being raped.

In bold colors, Chung shared stories of women carrying their babies back home after treatment and fistula surgeries, reflecting the ravage of rape that has affected more than half a million women in the DRC.

Five years later, she returned to follow up on her earlier subjects. Chung's latest work Tears in the Congo: Unending War, Unending Tears documents the women and children who continue to fight for their safety and survival, even as rape as a weapon of war continues to proliferate their lives.

Yet now, in 2014, Chung's photos from Congo are in black-and-white. The photo at the top of this post caught my eye and mesmerized me. In the midst of life, zooming through the French countryside on TGV watching green earth pass by, sitting by the ocean looking at three swaths of blue, letting the sun warm my naked spine, I kept thinking, when Chung returned to Congo, all color was gone. Only black and white remained.

For months, I have been on a writing break since stumbling upon May San Alberto's Artemisias in a gallery in Rome. Sometimes the break comes from still not knowing the answer: how to create safety for women and children in the DRC because they deserve it. As much as I do. As much as you do. As we all do.

Over these months, one thought kept surfacing: Our work as activists, as human beings, has to bring effective change. We all must live in safety, at least.

How can this shift occur? More advocacy. More policy and law. More outreach?

In June 2014, the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence took place in London. It created concrete steps toward ending impunity for those who commit sexual violence within war and conflict.

But until impunity arrives and behavior change occurs, Chung has it right. The facts are stark and they remain in black-and-white: For more than ten years, the DRC has been a war zone with death tolls exceeding 5.5 million people. More than 500,000 women and children have been raped.

Chung's photos also remind: As time passes for women and children in Congo, this means their lives remain just as they are. Just as they have been for more than ten years. In need of basic safety. In need of a better chance. In need of change.

Jean Chung is a Korean photojournalist who has won awards such as the CARE Humanitarian Reporting Award in 2007 and the 6th and 7th Days Japan International Photojournalism Award in 2010 and 2011. 

Photo credits: Jean Chung