The American Journal of Public Health reported a gut-wrenching revelation in May: The problem of rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is far worse than previously reported. The study by U.S. scientists reported that an average of 48 women and girls endure rape every hour in war-torn Congo. The report found that 400,000 females between the ages of 15 and 49 suffered rape over a 12-month period in 2006 and 2007. The United Nations had reported 16,000 rapes in the same year.
The new figures came from studying a 2007 government health survey that offered more data than police and health center reports. Amber Peterman, the study's author, said the higher figures are still likely conservative estimates since many never report rape: "Our results confirm that previous estimates of rape and violence are severe underestimates of the true prevalence of sexual violence occurring in the DRC."
"It would be tragic," said Franklin Graham as he departed for North Korea in May, "if the United States withholds food and uses food as a weapon." Graham's comments revealed one side of an ongoing debate over whether the United States should intervene in a reported food crisis in North Korea, despite the country's dangerous belligerence.
Graham-head of Samaritan's Purse-and representatives from four other U.S.-based aid groups reported evidence of looming food shortages and rising malnutrition after the team visited the country in February. The group reported that North Korean authorities estimated the country could exhaust its food stocks by mid-June. The United Nations echoed that report in March.
Delivering aid to the regime isn't simple: Human-rights groups say government officials have often diverted food aid from a needy public to well-fed military officers and government workers. North Korea halted a food program run by five U.S. aid groups in 2009, but invited the groups back in February to assess the country's food crisis again.
U.S. officials haven't indicated whether the U.S. government will re-engage a food aid program. North Korea's nuclear tests and announcement of a uranium enrichment facility have strained already-frayed relations. American officials have said they want assurances that they could directly monitor and verify that food aid is reaching needy populations-a point the secretive North Korean government may not concede.
The announcement of another Democratic senator's retirement makes the prospect of a Republican takeover of the U.S. Senate in 2012 even more likely. Four-term Sen. Herb Kohl's retirement brings to six the number of Democratic senators who have announced that they won't run for reelection next year. Kohl, a Wisconsin Democrat, said he is retiring after 24 years in office because "it's better to leave a job a little too early than a little too late." In total, Democrats have 23 seats to defend in 2012, while Republicans only have 10; Republicans need to gain four seats to take the majority.
Speculation had swirled that House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., would run for Kohl's seat, but Ryan announced May 17 that he would not run so he could continue overseeing the budget in the House. Then buzz mounted that former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson would run for the seat. Possible Democratic candidates include former Sen. Russ Feingold, who lost his seat in 2010 to Republican Ron Johnson, as well as Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Democratic Reps. Ron Kind and Tammy Baldwin, who would be the first lesbian senator.
Last year's target date for the emptying of Medicare's trust fund: 2029. This year's estimate for when these funds to support Medicare will run out: 2024. The fund's trustees, in their annual report released May 13, chopped off five years in the lifespan of the fund that supports one of the country's biggest entitlements. This earlier-than-expected bottoming out of Medicare's dollars will surely become a bargaining tool in this summer's congressional clash over raising the nation's debt limit beyond $14.3 trillion.
Republicans cited the trust fund's shortened expiration date as proof that entitlement reform must be a part of any deal to increase the debt ceiling. "We have to act now," said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. "Doing nothing will lead to benefit cuts and the bankruptcy of these programs and our nation." The bleak picture painted by the trustees may even be too optimistic. Their prediction assumes that billions of dollars in savings will be realized under the new healthcare law. In the event that those savings are not met, Medicare could go bankrupt even sooner.
One month after instructing its chaplains to permit same-sex marriage ceremonies at military chapels, the Navy backed off the order amid a sea storm of criticism. An April 13 Navy memo said the pending end of the military's ban on gays openly serving in the military meant that same-sex marriages could occur at chapels in states that recognize gay marriage. But Navy brass suspended the memo on May 10 after conservative organizations and lawmakers warned that the plan would violate the Defense of Marriage Act that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. "Federal law trumps the demands of those who would use the military to advance a liberal social agenda," said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins.
But the controversy reveals the potential consequences of last year's congressional vote to overturn the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy regarding gays in the military. Conservatives argue that pressure on chaplains to recognize and condone same-sex marriages will threaten their religious liberties and may drive many chaplains out of the military. The House Armed Services Committee approved a bill on May 12 that explicitly prohibits U.S. military bases from being used to solemnize same-sex unions. The legislation, which still must go before the full House and Senate, also bars military chaplains from officiating at gay marriages.
'A new chapter'
President Barack Obama announced a "new chapter in American diplomacy" following revolts in the Middle East and North Africa. The president in a May 19 speech laid out his approach to a Middle East reshaped since Tunisia's government fell in January, closely followed by the departure of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak in February. That policy is to include up to $1 billion in debt forgiveness for "a democratic" Egypt and help recovering stolen assets and other financial incentives directed especially at Tunisia and Egypt.
Following reports of perhaps 1,000 deaths in a crackdown by Syrian President Bashar Assad, Obama noted Assad had "chosen the path of murder and mass arrests" and the United States has stepped up sanctions against the regime. But Syrian Christians continue to express support for Assad and say the West has misread the protesters, who they claim are outside militants who've threatened church groups to join the protests or leave the country. Obama in his speech said he "will oppose any who want to restrict the right of others," and called for religious tolerance: "In a region that was the birthplace of three world religions, intolerance can lead only to suffering and stagnation."
More than two months after a tsunami devastated northeastern Japan, survivors continued grappling with deep losses, and aid groups continued helping victims cope with sweeping needs. CRASH (an acronym for Christian Relief, Assistance, Support and Hope) reported that survivors were moving beyond the immediate disaster and are dealing with emotional and spiritual struggles. The Christian agency is working with churches and volunteers to provide counseling to victims at shelters and community centers in the disaster zones.
Meanwhile, heroic stories of self-sacrifice continued to emerge. Russell Board, a missionary to Japan and a WORLD contributor, reported that schoolteachers had exhibited extraordinary service since the disaster. One example: Tomoko Ono, a teacher in Iwate prefecture, lost her home in the tsunami. She spent two weeks searching evacuation centers and shelters to make sure her students had survived before returning to her own home. After Ono and her colleagues realized they had lost their cars to the floodwaters, they pooled their money to buy a used car. The purpose: The teachers take shifts visiting students in their homes and shelters across the region.
After weeks of bombings and vicious street warfare, Libyan rebels reported they had taken control of the port city of Misrata. The mid-May victory over Muammar Qaddafi's government forces represented a critical gain for rebels in the three-month-old war.
But Gen. David Richards-head of Britain's armed forces-said NATO should widen the small range of targets the alliance's planes are allowed to hit in order to protect civilians. Richards said that without "more intense military action," the rebels could face a stalemate. Tony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington told the BBC that NATO's reliance on a no-fly zone and a narrow range of targets to help rebels defeat Qaddafi is a "farce and not the effective use of force."
Meanwhile, the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court said he had requested arrest warrants for Qaddafi, his son, and his intelligence chief for crimes against humanity in targeting civilians during the fighting. Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said that Qaddafi "personally ordered attacks on Libyan civilians" and that the leader's forces "shot at demonstrations using live ammunition, using heavy weaponry against funeral processions, and placed snipers to kill those leaving mosques after prayers."