This post co-authored with actress Mariska Hargitay originally appeared on the front page of Huffington Post today.
The epidemic of rape and sexual violence in the Congo takes center stage in an all-new episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, airing on Wednesday night.
Portraying the world’s worst violence against women — taking place half a world away in Central Africa — in a TV show set in New York City is a challenge. But Law and Order: SVU creator Neal Baer and writer Dawn DeNoon have managed to convey the facts on the ground in Congo through the eyes of a Congolese woman portrayed in the episode.
Eastern Congo is the world’s deadliest conflict globally since WWII. Widespread rape is used as a strategy of war and an instrument of communal terror, making this region the world’s most dangerous place to be a woman or a girl. Armed groups compete to control lucrative mines and smuggling routes. Rape becomes their principal means of terrorizing local populations into passive compliance, so they can steal the mineral wealth without opposition. These crimes destroy families, decimate communities, and lethally spread HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
There are few other conflicts in the world where the link between our consumer appetites and massive human suffering is so direct.
The armed groups perpetuating the violence generate hundreds of millions of dollars each year by trading in four main minerals: tin, tantalum, tungsten (the "three Ts") and gold. These minerals are essential to our cell phones, laptops and other electronics.
As consumers, we must speak up and demand that the top electronics companies produce conflict-free products. By removing conflict minerals from the equation in Congo, we remove the fuel from the fire. Write to the top electronics companies and tell them you want them to start producing conflict-free phones and laptops.
"Witness" marks the second collaboration between SVU and the Enough Project. Last March the SVU team partnered with Enough to give viewers a deeper understanding of the plight of survivors of the 22-year war in Northern Uganda waged by the Lord’s Resistance Army.
As we have seen with other war crimes and crimes against humanity around the globe, change will only come when there is a concerted effort to deal with the problem, and perpetrators are held accountable for their actions.
Gandhi once said, "Whatever you do may seem insignificant to you, but it is most important that you do it." Once you finish reading this blog or watching tomorrow’s episode, you have an opportunity to be not just readers, not just viewers, but agents of life-saving change. As we celebrate International Women’s Month this month — of all months — no matter who you are, no matter where you are, your role as a witness who takes action is crucial. Seize the opportunity to take action on behalf of Congo’s women and girls. "It is most important that you do it."
To learn more visit www.raisehopeforcongo.org.
Mariska Hargitay is an advocate, actress, and activist who appears in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Mariska is the Founder and President of the Joyful Heart Foundation. www.joyfulheartfoundation.org.