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KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of the Congo—“I woke up at around 10 p.m. in one of the rooms where the party was [being held]. My body ached and I felt dizzy. I noticed that my underwear was next to me and I was not dressed. I realized that I had been abused,” said Joséphine Mayelo*.

The 17-year-old girl sometimes met her friends on weekends to celebrate birthdays. On that day, she danced to Congolese music at a party, without suspecting that a crime against her was about to change her life. She was horrified when she woke up after the effects of the drug had worn off and realised her body had been violated.

I was scared to tell my mother the story for fear of being punished.

“The next day, I talked about it with one of my older sisters, who advised me to go to the hospital. I was scared to tell my mother the story for fear of being punished,” she said. In the DRC, girls who are raped are often hesitant to inform their parents for fear of angering or being rejected by them. They also fear the threat of reprisal and stigma.

As if the rape was not difficult enough for her to deal with, Joséphine soon discovered she was pregnant. “I cried a lot all night. I saw my whole life getting destroyed,” she said bitterly. But she was determined not to give up on her studies and drop out of school.

New hope from centre’s support

Joséphine’s sister accompanied her to the One-Stop Centre for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence at Kintambo Hospital. “I was welcomed and assisted by Ms. Néné Sambi (the centre’s psychologist). She gave me advice and made me understand that it was not my fault. Another person told me that if I wanted to, I could file a complaint,” Joséphine said.

Joséphine received holistic care, including support from the psychologist, who help her cope with the aftermath. “Ms. Néné helped me inform my parents, who were very upset,” she said. “My mother could not stop crying. My father was upset with me for one month.”

Assisted by health providers at Kintambo General Hospital, Joséphine gave birth to a child and will wait a year before resuming her studies. She is recovering slowly from the attack and continues to attend psychological support sessions at the One-Stop Centre. On the advice of the centre, a complaint was filed against her aggressors. Lawyers from the non-governmental organization NDJF continue to follow her case in court with the assistance of the Free Consultation Office of the Bar of Kinshasa Gombe.

The psychological support sessions organized for Joséphine enabled her to face her fears.

“The psychological support sessions organized for Joséphine enabled her to face her fears. She went back to her habits (eating and working) and will soon be able to recover fully from her situation,” Ms. Néné said.

Said Josephine: “With Ms. Néné’s assistance, my mother is no longer suffering too much. She accepted the situation and encourages me every day and often accompanies me to see the psychologist at the centre.”

The One-Stop Centre provides holistic care, including medical, psychosocial, legal and socio-economic support, for GBV survivors in Kinshasa. The medical office has seven doctors who are available 24/7 to provide medical care. The centre is supported by UNFPA, UNDP and the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) under the JAD Programme (Justice, Empowerment and Dignity of women and girls in the DRC), with funding from Canada. UNFPA's support consists of training providers in rape clinic management, and the regular supply of drugs, equipment and small materials for rape management and subsidizing services. In addition to the Kintambo One-Stop Centre, UNFPA supports 11 other One-Stop Centres in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

* Name withheld to protect her identity.