So much has happened recently that feels like progress when it comes to ensuring the right of people to live free from abuse. Millions of people across the world have harnessed the power of social media to demand an end to sexual violence and harassment against individuals using hashtags such as #MeToo, #AidToo, #TimesUp, #YouOkSis, #SayHerName, #MosqueMeToo, #23Days, #OneBillionRising and #EverydaySexism.
Powerful figures, from Hollywood film producers to senior politicians and humanitarian aid bosses, have been named and shamed for crimes such as sexual misconduct, assault and child abuse. In the United States, more than US$20 million has been raised to establish a Time’s Up legal defence fund for lower-income women seeking justice for workplace sexual harassment and assault. This year should finally see the first steps towards the implementation of an international legal standard to help prevent, identify and remedy violence in the workplace, with a strong focus on the gender.
But what is Gender Based Violence (GBV)?
This is defined as any harmful act against an individual due to their gender, male or female, often motivated by power or control, all forms of sexual abuse, sexual harassment, domestic violence, honour killings, forced marriage, genital mutilation etc. The majority of perpetrators are male; although research shows male survivors are much less likely to report these crimes.
Those who speak out against the physical, sexual, psychological and economic harm they endure often pay a terrible price. Victims face slurs, shame, can be ostracised from the community and education, experience a loss of income, more violence and even loss of life. For every woman or man that has shared her/his story on social media, there are thousands more for whom silence was the only option. In England I have witnessed and supported individuals at the Crown Court, but the percentage of cases that even make it this far is so miniscule we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg.
So why is this happening?
Any sector which supports vulnerable individuals can become a breeding ground for GBV due to several factors such as an imbalance of power (gender, beneficiaries), an inbred macho culture (risk behaviours - running on adrenaline), and being in confined environments.
What can we do to stop GBV?
Megan Norbert is at the forefront of creating change. She has recently been presented with the @InterActionOrg's Humanitarian Award for her work to end silence on sexual violence against aid workers. She's a gender-based violence in emergencies specialist with CARE. Megan shared her story with me for my recently published book, Psychosocial Support for Humanitarian Aid Workers: A Roadmap of Trauma and Critical Incident Care, buy your copy today click here
One point I make in the book is if you don’t know how to support a colleague who may have just experienced a sexual violent crime you need further training. It is essential for preventing retraumatising individuals, and there is an urgency with much of the support due to timelines of forensic data collection. It is important individuals are well informed as it can make a huge difference to someone’s recovery. The initial stages of support are often the most crucial in someone’s recovery.
Organisations need to create a culture of accountability and ensure follow up on reports and care to the trauma survivor is given in a timely and suitable fashion. In-country teams need to receive full training to know how to support each other and the care-givers in their teams.
How can we empower people to speak out safely? What do organisations need to do?
The only way we are going to change systematic ignorance of GBV is to ensure organisations, companies and NGOs have transparency, working collaboratively so perpetrators cannot be moved from one agency to another; this obviously ties into more stringent vetting and recruitment procedures.
All organisations need to ensure they have whistleblowing policies in place, that they are promoted internally and a culture of sharing feelings and cases of GBV so that they are not swept under the carpet. FD consultants are working collaboratively with Care International by offering individual and group support sessions - lets hope more organisations follow their lead. This ties in with continually reviewing safeguarding policies and making them a priority within the organisation. Sadly, I have worked with many organisations where safeguarding is seen as a low priority (RtA found that only 16% of 92 organisations reviewed mentioned sexual violence in their duty of care policies).
Organisations need to be aware of local protocols and laws; as well as consider if the survivor needs to be relocated for better care. I am often shocked at how little information organisations have about areas where they are deploying staff.
Better support for Survivors
Fundamentally our care and support for survivors of GBV needs to improve. Organisations need to have clear policies in place that are implemented as soon as a case of GBV is reported, with immediate medical care for the survivor, as well as providing access to counselling services. After the initial support organisations should offer legal support and follow up with the survivor to ensure they are not retraumatised and are receiving the care they require and have every right to.
Here at FD Consultants we are passionate about training the carers and NGOs and have developed a Sexual violence awareness course to enable participants to better protect themselves against the threat of sexual violence and be better placed to respond in the event of an incident occurring. We strive to define sexual violence, challenge myths and build skills to support a colleague after a sexual violent crime.
The true power of the #MeToo moment will lie in our ability to harness this rare, sustained global attention on the issue of gender-based violence to support the work of the grassroots activists, community-based organisations, journalists, academics, trade unions, NGOs and social movements who were doing this work well before the hashtags started trending and will continue doing it long after they stop.
Their work needs to be well-funded and widely supported but it also requires the proper legal framework. That’s why the proposed International Labour Organization (ILO) instrument on Violence and Harassment against Women and Men in the World of Work is so important. There are currently 189 ILO conventions setting out basic principles and rights at work; not one of them focuses on gender-based violence.
It is time to create a culture of zero tolerance, it is time for change.