by Kara Furlong
Kristin Fleschner, a resident of Terre Haute, Ind., has been awarded
the 2004 traveling fellowship at Vanderbilt. The fellowship,
funded by 1981 Vanderbilt alumnus Michael B. Keegan, will provide
$10,000 for a year of travel and study throughout Africa.
Fleschner graduated summa cum laude from Vanderbilt in December 2003
with bachelor’s of science degrees in anthropology and Human and
Organizational Development. She is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. George
S. Fleschner of Terre Haute.
Fleschner plans to use the fellowship to travel and conduct research in
Botswana, Uganda, Zambia and South Africa, studying the issue of sexual
violence against African women and children and the spread of AIDS.
“War has created an environment across Africa in which violence is
accepted. Rape, a common violent crime against women in Africa, is even
more devastating to women living in populations where 20-50 percent of
the male population tests HIV-positive,” wrote Fleschner in her
fellowship proposal. “Human Rights Watch released a study in November
2003 stating that violence and discrimination against women is fueling
the African AIDS crisis.”
Even more startling is the incidence of child rape in Africa. “In one
rape court in [the Johannesburg district of] Soweto, 70 percent of the
rape cases are child rape,” notes Fleschner.
African courts are attempting to address the rape problem by
strengthening the penalties for convicted sexual offenders, and South
Africa has established 36 “rape courts” in which specially trained
judges and prosecutors only handle sexual violence cases. However, the
epidemic persists due to lack of funding and resources among law
enforcement, a generally unresponsive court system and widespread
Fleschner plans to attend rape court sessions and observe how the
justice system deals with, or fails to deal with, violence against
women and children. She will use the knowledge she gains to assist
nongovernmental organizations in utilizing their resources to fill the
gaps created by the inadequate justice systems. She also hopes to
facilitate relationships among the nongovernmental organizations in
various countries so that they might share experiences, failures and
successes, and methods of addressing the violence.
During her time at Vanderbilt and in the Nashville community, Fleschner
participated in several activities that have helped prepare her for her
fellowship in Africa. As an intern in the Nashville district attorney’s
office, Fleschner served as a coordinator within the domestic violence
division of Victim Witness Services. Her responsibilities included
interviewing domestic violence victims, educating them about the
justice system and preparing them for testimony. As a volunteer at the
Nashville Ronald McDonald House, Fleschner was trained in Play Therapy,
which is designed to promote physical and emotional recovery for
children through age-appropriate activities and games. A similar
therapy is implemented in Africa to help recovering child rape
Following her year in Africa, Fleschner plans to pursue either a law
degree with a focus on women’s issues or a Ph.D. in gender relations.
“I plan to dedicate my future to women’s rights advocacy, and I believe
it is a duty to consider and learn from all cultures, not simply my
own,” says Fleschner.