Steps to Justice: How the United States Is Supporting Survivors of Sexual Violence

Monday, January 04, 2016 12:42 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

By Catherine Russell and William R. Brownfield from

After being violently raped by her neighbor in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Marie* didn't think she had many options. She was only 14 years old, and the rapist was a powerful person who would likely be immune from justice.

He and his family continued to threaten Marie, and she considered ending her own life. Instead, she turned to a U.S.-funded legal clinic run by the American Bar Association's Rule of Law Initiative, where survivors of sexual and gender-based violence are given legal aid and psychological support.

Marie received counseling to help her cope with the trauma of the rape. With the clinic's assistance, she pressed charges against her neighbor, moving forward even after the state prosecutor requested the matter be resolved "outside the courts." The perpetrator was put on trial and found guilty.

More of this kind of justice is desperately needed in countries and communities plagued with conflict, lawlessness, and sexual and gender-based violence. Often women and girls are the targets of rape, sexual slavery, and human trafficking, but boys and men can also be victims.

It is hard to overstate the long-term impact this type of violence wreaks on both individuals and communities. The individual survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, no matter who they are, are physically and emotionally scarred in traumatic ways that can last a lifetime.

Today, the Accountability Initiative is strengthening the promise of justice in the Central African Republic (CAR), the DRC, and Liberia. In the DRC, the State Department is building on the momentum of President Kabila's recent appointment of a special advisor on sexual violence and on successful global investments in sexual and gender-based violence programming -- such as the U.S.-funded project that helped Marie -- by improving criminal case documentation and management processes in the eastern provinces. 

The commitment of the United States to working with governments and the international community to raise awareness and end impunity is steadfast. As more people learn of sexual and gender-based violence cases going to court and being adjudicated fairly, their trust in the justice system increases and the hope grows that other survivors will follow a similar roadmap leading to justice. 

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