A PEPFAR-supported roundtable recently brought together a group of Kenyan journalists, who focused on the challenges facing writers reporting on gender-based violence and rape. The roundtable, which was attended by 24 journalists, included an experienced counselor who provided advice on how to interact with rape survivors. The writers were told not to interview a survivor who had not been previously counseled, and that an adult must accompany a child survivor being interviewed. Information was also provided on antiretroviral treatment (ART) and follow-up care.
The roundtable is a good example of PEPFAR's effort to address gender issues, and by doing so to lessen the vulnerability of women to HIV infection. Sexual violence against women exacerbates the spread of HIV because it makes it impossible for them to voluntarily abstain from sex or to insist on condom use. PEPFAR supports efforts to change social norms that perpetuate male violence against women, and to strengthen laws that make gender-based violence a crime. In clinical settings, it supports post-exposure prophylaxis, as well as psychological and social support for rape victims.
In its discussion of how to interview rape victims, the roundtable also covered the challenge of journalists using appropriate language in interviewing victims of rape, particularly when those victims are children. The words used to describe sexual violation vary within a given language, and a phrase that is clear to an adult might not be understood by a child. The challenge is to find the appropriate terminology.
Even experienced journalists have found it difficult to deal with the brutality encountered by rape victims during Kenya's recent period of post-election turmoil.
Journalist Mary Kiio recounted her experiences after she made contact with an organization dealing with rape survivors. "Initially I just wanted to be a journalist and tell a story," she said, referring to her reporting on the rape of a woman and two young children. "I hadn't realized the magnitude of the story." Kassim Mohammed, another journalist, wished he had been more prepared when he wrote an article on a woman who had been raped by ten men. "I was up and down and all over the place with my questions, [which] did not help the situation."
Kassim also regrets that he had not known more about post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) when talking to the woman. PEP is the antiretroviral treatment given to rape survivors to prevent HIV infection.
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