Plus: Jessica Alba gets emotional at event to fight violence against women

By Sara Hammel
Updated February 14, 2009 07:05 AM

Charlize Theron, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Kerry Washington and other prominent names gathered Friday to join forces to end violence against women the world over – and Rihanna was not far from anyone’s minds.

At a luncheon in Beverly Hills for V-Day, The Vagina Monologues playwright Eve Ensler’s movement to end violence against women and girls, V-Day board member Dawson made reference to Rihanna and Jennifer Hudson – whose family was murdered in October – as she addressed the luncheon, reminding the audience that “all these women are our sisters.”

Last Sunday’s alleged beating of Rihanna, 20, at the hands of her 19-year-old boyfriend Chris Brown (who is currently under police investigation) must be taken seriously, emphasized Washington.

“I don’t know the details of their situation, but I do know this is an issue that can’t go ignored,” the Ray and Fantastic Four actress told PEOPLE.

“If we talk about violence against women, my hope is we don’t talk about it as petty gossip but as a social illness that must end. So if that’s what’s going on, then we need to all be aware this is a problem that goes from the Congo to Hollywood and everywhere in between,” said Washington.”

Dawson earlier had told PEOPLE that she had “met Rihanna a few times, and I think she’s such a sweet young lady, and my heart goes out to her.”

Alba Tears Up

The event launched the Turning Pain to Power Tour, which aims to combat rampant rape and mutilation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and honored Dr. Denis Mukwege, who volunteers in the DRC to operate on women whose bodies have been ravaged by rape during the Congolese war.

Kicking off the lunch, Jessica Alba choked up as she read a first-person account of an African woman who had been attacked.

As she read a testimonial of Pasquazine, 39, who had been raped when intruders broke into her home and killed several family members, Alba teared up and paused before continuing.

Alba’s delivery, along with readings of Ensler’s latest work – by Rosario, Washington and the playwright herself – were “moving,” Theron acknowledged afterwards.

“I was born and raised in a country with similar turmoil. People want to help, but don’t know how,” the South African Monster Oscar winner told PEOPLE. “This is just the tip of the iceberg.”