U.Va. Nurse, Others Team Up to Help Rape Victims in Congo

July 6, 2009 — Rape is among the worst ravages of war, and right now it is an epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 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, a forensic nurse in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Virginia Health System, is part of a U.Va. team headed to Congo to educate clinicians on collecting evidence and providing care for the overwhelming number of rape victims they see daily. They were scheduled to depart Tuesday 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," Anderson said. "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 Congo treats nearly 250 new rape victims in its 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 east African countries affected by war and disease, sponsors peace-building projects in the Congo. 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," Anderson said. "We will also listen to their narratives describing what they manage on a daily basis."

Anderson's goal is to provide clinicians in Congo 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 U.Va. team include Barbara Parker, a professor in the School of Nursing. and nursing doctoral student Jamela Martin. They also will be joined by a team from Johns Hopkins University.

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