Kinshasa - Women and children are being kidnapped by armed gangs and forced to work as sex slaves in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said on Wednesday.
"Victims have been held as sex slaves - sometimes for months at a time - and sexually assaulted violently by several men, several times a day," MSF psychologist Ana Maria Tijerino said in a statement.
The aid group also warned that men are being kidnapped and put to work as labourers in the gold and diamond mining region of Okapi, in the east of the vast, mineral-rich nation.
In just one village between May and early July, MSF said its medical teams provided consultations for 3 586 people and treated 143 women, three men and two children who had suffered sexual violence.
Last month a team treated 20 women in a single village who had been raped, it said.
"Violence and sexual violence are nothing new in DR Congo," Tijerino said. "But for the victims, these atrocities are not normal. No one should have to accept violence on this level."
MSF warned that many of the victims of sexual violence kept captive for weeks were not receiving vital medical aid that could protect against HIV, sexually transmitted infections or pregnancy.
"Months after an assault, the physical and psychological trauma is still apparent in the survivors," Tijerino said.
"Many suffer from pain, infected wounds, stress, depression and nightmares. They are scared for the future and haunted by what they have lived through."