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Angelina Jolie Visits Kenya on Humanitarian Trip Condemning Sexual Violence as She Meets Young Survivors

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Angelina Jolie traveled to the African country of Kenya to observe firsthand the progress of the initiative against sexual violence that she helped launch.

The activist and special envoy to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees marked World Refugee Day by meeting adolescent sexual assault survivors in the city of Nairobi, including a girl who was the “same age as my eldest son, who is already a mother to a child born of rape,” she said in a speech.

She then visited the International Peace Support Training Centre in the city to observe a training session for military and police personnel involved in U.N. and African peacekeeping missions. Jolie spoke to the peacekeepers present, giving a speech highlighting how they are at the forefront of the fight against sexual violence.

“The reality is that women and girls, as well as men and boys, can still be raped with near-total impunity in conflict zones around the world,” Jolie, 42, said in a speech exclusively obtained by PEOPLE. “The reality is that a peacekeeper may be the first person one of those traumatized girls encounters after their abuse. As peacekeepers you need to be absolutely clear what to do, because that girl will be frightened, especially of a man with a gun. How do you approach her, will affect her whether she is able to begin to recover or if more damage will be done.”

Mark Henley/UNHCR
Jolie meeting with survivors in Kenya

Jolie started the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative in 2012 alongside former Foreign Secretary Lord William Hague of Richmond. Since its founding, the program has trained over 17,000 military and police personnel on sexual violence issues, and the PSVI team of experts has been deployed more than eight times.

“It meant a lot to hear military gender advisors and officers say what they believe and what they want others to understand, that this is not simply about law and human decency. It is about military effectiveness,” Jolie continued in her speech. “If civilians do not have confidence in you as peacekeepers your mission will not succeed. And while this training is clearly only a beginning, it is the only way that we will begin to address the problems: working nation by nation to raise standards and increase effectiveness.”

She concluded, “On behalf of victims of sexual violence I want to plead with all of you to take this issue seriously and personally, to use your position and your influence to spread this message within your armed forces and on all the missions on which you serve.”