Breaking the silence

Award-winning filmmaker raises awareness of rape

by Marlena Chertock, February 25, 2010

Filmmaker Lisa Jackson spoke at Elon University about bringing an end to sexual violence during wars. Photo by Marlena Chertock.

A two-time Emmy-Award winning documentarian lamented the culture of denial and complicity in the world when it comes to rape Thursday night at Elon University.

Filmmaker Lisa Jackson screened clips of her film “The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo,” which she made in 2007 during a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo to document the effects of war and violence. The film attempts to raise awareness of rape as a weapon of war.

“My intention going over there was to talk to the women who are really at ground zero of this war,” said Jackson, who partners with Women Make Movies, a nonprofit media arts organization established in 1972 to address the underrepresentation and misrepresentation of women in the media.

She said six million people have died as a consequence of the war and thousands have become victims of sexual violence.

Jackson was able to persuade women to talk to her because of her own experience. Thirty years ago in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., Jackson was gang raped, and while she said the moment was an important event in her life, it was not her motivating factor to document rape in the Congo. It did help her gain Congolese women’s trust, though, as she was able to show them news clippings of the coverage of her rape from newspapers.

“The women came literally out of the bush to talk to me,” Jackson said. “Sort of an informal line would form. Two dozen women waiting with their children, waiting for an opportunity to talk to me, an opportunity to tell their story.”

Those stories had an emotional impact on Jackson. Tears formed in her eyes as she described the reaction of one Congolese woman, who expressed pride in knowing her story would be shared throughout the world.

“She said to me … for the rest of her life, every day, she would think about the millions of men and women around the world who had seen her face and read her words and now she had a name and her story had an audience,” Jackson said. “It made her feel less alone.”

Of course, she’s not alone because sexual violence is used as a weapon of war. And the worst part, according to Jackson, is that it’s not decried in the West because governments are purposefully ignoring the occurrence of sexual violence.

The war in Congo is a resource war, based on economics, Jackson said. The largest deposit of coltan is found in Congo and surrounding countries. The mineral is used in everyday technology such as laptops, computers, cell phones and remote controls.

Often when a resource is in high demand, the country containing it will fall into disorganization and war. Such is the case with countries such as Congo and Rwanda.

“Every laptop, every BlackBerry, every remote control has the blood of Congolese women,” Jackson said.

Jackson’s said she wanted her film, which has won several awards including the Jury Prize for the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, to break the silence, start a discussion about rape and stop the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war.

“The epidemic of sexual violence that is consuming (the Democratic Republic of Congo) right now” relates to the international culture of denial and complicity, Jackson said.

She said she feels American foreign policy will now acknowledge the truth, and that’s a problem because there is no judicial system in the Congo. The political system and authorities are corrupt.

“If you are in government where a lot of authorities are rapists and child molesters there is no motivation to make these laws where justice comes in,” Jackson said.

So the international community needs to come together to help people in the Democratic Republic of Congo, she said. The entire world is interconnected. She said everyone listening to her speech is connected and the actions they take will affect others in foreign countries.

“The big picture in terms of the international community and what needs to be done in the Congo” has four steps, she said. “One, (is) calling Rwanda on what’s going on there. Two is to develop some sort of transparency supply chains of these minerals. Three is demobilizing the Rwandan army. Four is professionalizing the Congolese army.”

The rest is up to other people in the world, Jackson said. There has to be political will and motivation. With transparency, perhaps acts of violence will occur less frequently, she said.

“There have been some outcomes of this film but now I’m trusting other organizations and other student bodies,” Jackson said.