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January 13, 2011

UVA nurse and others team up to help rape victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Rape is among the worst ravages of war, and right now it is an epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Victims range from baby girls to grandmothers and in many cases, they are ostracized from their communities. Though their bodies are broken, their spirits are not, and they want their perpetrators to be brought to justice.

Sarah Anderson, PhD, forensic nurse in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Virginia Health System, is part of a UVA team that will travel to the DRC to educate clinicians on collecting evidence and providing care for the overwhelming number of rape victims they see daily. They will depart July 7 and return July 23.

“Here in America, we believe we should be able to wear what we want to wear and go where we want to go without becoming victims of rape,” says Anderson. “There, women live with rape as a daily reality, even expecting it to happen to them at some time.”

In fact, one worldwide relief organization in the DRC treats nearly 250 new rape victims in their clinics each month, and there is a growing concern that rape has crossed over from war-related violence to a societal problem. The Great Lakes Restoration Organization, an American-based group that aids eastern African countries affected by war and disease, sponsors peace-building projects in the DRC. Anderson’s trip is a part of their effort.

“We will conduct interviews with the local health providers to find out what their needs are, what works and what needs to be fixed,” says Anderson. “We will also listen to their narratives describing what they manage on a daily basis.”

Anderson’s goal is to provide clinicians in the DRC with the tools they need to properly examine and care for their patients. Ultimately, she hopes that her work will result in justice for the women and girls of the Congo.

Other members of the UVA team include Barbara Parker, PhD, professor in the UVA School of Nursing (SON) and UVA SON doctoral student Jamela Martin. They also will be joined by a team from Johns Hopkins University.

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