Sexual Violence and HIV
*By Judith Santiago
November 4, 2010—During the war, Kabongo was a field of violence. Located in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), communities in and around Kabongo lived under the constant threat of the Congolese army and rebel groups who pillaged, raped, burned homes, and confiscated food rations. Almost 3,500 females were raped by soldiers, militiamen and civilians during the first six months of 2009, according to the United Nations. Because of the increased presence of foreign military from Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola, the numbers are believed to be much higher, as many survivors do not report their assault.
"Sexual violence creates a long, devastating scar that destroys families and communities," said Donald E. Messer, chair of the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund. "Rape survivors are often left with unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases like HIV, and crippling injuries."
In addition, rape and HIV/AIDS survivors are rejected by family members, ostracized, and abandoned by their communities. The physical and psychological trauma experienced by survivors is severe.
The United Methodist Global AIDS Fund is working in Kabongo to increase awareness about HIV/AIDS and its spread. Through grant support to the North Katanga United Methodist Episcopal Area, more than 300 community health volunteers working in United Methodist hospitals learn about HIV/AIDS transmission, treatment, testing and counseling. The United Methodist Global AIDS Fund equips community health workers to provide much-needed psycho-social support to help women and children overcome AIDS-related stigma, fear and trauma. As a result, communities in Kabongo are empowered to care for themselves and their families, as they learn to prevent future spread of the HIV virus.
"Survivors feel isolated and humiliated,” Mr. Messer said. “Thankfully, church medical teams and community health workers are there to embrace survivors as family, nurturing them back to physical and emotional health.”
How You Can Help
Observe World AIDS Day, December 1 and support projects like these that are helping women overcome AIDS-related stigma through testing, treatment and counseling. Give to UM Global AIDS Fund, UMCOR Advance #982345 and visit UMCOR’s World AIDS Day resource page for downloadable materials.
*Santiago is the Project Manager for UMCOR Communications
This article appeared in the June, 2010 issue (Volume 42. No. 6) of Response, the official magazine of United Methodist Women