LOS ANGELES — The topic of Friday's star-studded V-Day luncheon was the organization's work with women in the Congo. But Jessica Alba, Kerry Washington and other supporters of V-Day, which has raised more than $60 million to stop violence against women and girls worldwide, were also talking about Rihanna.
"When things happen publicly, it just makes it a more universal problem that more people can relate to," said Alba, an annual participant in the V-Day luncheon.
Rihanna was reportedly involved in a domestic dispute with boyfriend Chris Brown last week that resulted in his arrest and booking on charges of making criminal threats. A police statement said the woman who reported the incident was injured, and identified Brown as her attacker. Charges have not yet been filed, and neither Brown nor Rihanna has come forth to comment on the incident.
On Friday, Alba read a poem inspired by the experience of a Congolese woman raped so severely and repeatedly by soldiers that she needed surgery. Washington, who serves on the V-Day board, called violence against women "a social illness that does not discriminate."
"This is a problem that spreads from the Congo to Hollywood," she said. "When it happens to someone famous, it's a tragedy that it happened, but what I hope is that people become less and less afraid to talk about how truly devastating this social illness is."
Rosario Dawson, also a board member, mentioned Rihanna and Jennifer Hudson in her plea to guests to support the V-Day cause.
"What's so incredible is the sympathy, courage, love and compassion that comes from that," she said. "That's what we need to be tapping into and realizing that all of these women, all across the world, are our sisters."
Playwright and activist Eve Ensler, who founded V-Day 11 years ago after the success of "The Vagina Monologues," offered a jarring statistic: one in three women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime.
"I'm sadly here to say violence against women is a human thing," Ensler said. "It's epidemic everywhere."
V-Day plans to hold 4,000 grass-roots events this year to educate people about violence against women and the atrocities in the Congo, where girls as young as 10 months and grandmothers in their 80s have been victims of sexual violence and mutilation, Ensler said.
Dr. Denis Mukwege, who received the United Nations Human Rights Prize in 2008 for his work in the Congo, told of how he performs a dozen surgeries each day on rape victims. Vicious rape is so common, he said, that he sees repeat patients. He's also seen wounded women crawl to his clinic door.
V-Day is joining forces with Mukwege's hospital and UNICEF to build a community for survivors of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ensler said.
Oscar nominee Anne Hathaway read a poem at the luncheon and Maria Shriver closed the program by urging guests to spread the word. Among those heeding her call? Charlize Theron, Camryn Manheim, Anne Archer and Sherry Lansing.
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