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  • Care Research Project

Delivering Survivor-Centered Frontline Tools to Combat Sexual Violence

The CARE project is delighted to announce that we are delivering training on fundamental interview principles in humanitarian contexts this weekend in Kenya, working in partnership with the Wangu Kanja Foundation, the Sexual Violence Survivors Network in Kenya and UN Women.

Frontline humanitarian organisations worldwide need cost-effective tools to document the atrocities they encounter. Such tools can be used to gather testimony to prove to duty bearers that these crimes are occurring. The tools allow for capturing the circumstances in which the violations are occurring, establishing patterns of offender behaviour, and to help dispel myths about victims and perpetrators.

Heretofore, such tools did not exist.

Sexual violence is notoriously difficult to investigate and prosecute, especially in contexts where resources for investigations are minimal.

The ability of the police and other duty bearers to understand the circumstances in which sexual violence occurs enables them to identify crime hotspots, develop crime prevention strategies, and identify serial perpetrators. These approaches also increase the value of the survivor’s testimony in preventing crimes and solving cases.

There is growing interest internationally to engage with the academic research literature to improve the documentation and investigation of sexual violence cases in developing countries and humanitarian settings.

One example of this is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Protocol for the Investigation and Documentation of Sexual Violence in Conflict. The Protocol was launched in 2014 at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in London, UK. It provides comprehensive guidance for documenting crimes of sexual violence perpetrated in the context of armed conflict. The guidelines were written to help criminal justice and human rights practitioners collect reliable, credible, and legally relevant information to strengthen and facilitate prosecutions.

The ultimate aim of the Protocol is to increase the prosecutions of conflict and atrocity-related sexual violence to tackle impunity for sexual violence, which exists around the world. Its authors had hoped that practitioners would adapt the Protocol to local contexts, attuning the procedures within it to cultural and sexual norms.

The Protocol provides guidance for its users regarding the specific elements of the underlying crime (e.g., what happened, to whom, when and where) that must be proven, 2) the common elements of the crime that could lead to it being charged as a war crime, crime against humanity or genocide, 3) linkage elements describing the manner in which the perpetrator(s) is (are) responsible for the crime, and 4) the need to establish the pain and suffering of the victim.

After providing relevant information about the specific elements, the vast majority of the Protocol is dedicated to setting out best practices for conducting interviews with victims and witnesses of sexual violence in order to collect testimonial evidence to establish the necessary legal elements of the crime.

The Protocol provides an in depth coverage of research-based models for obtaining witness accounts, such as the PEACE (i.e., Planning and Preparation, Engage and Explain, Account, Closure and Evaluation) model, while providing guidance about how to minimize harm, safety and security risks to interviewers, witnesses, and victims.

Adherence to best practice guidelines for conducting investigative interviews is a significant predictor of whether criminal cases are solved and successfully prosecuted

While the aims of the Protocol are laudable, the vast majority of local NGOs are unable to use it.

Although the Protocol provides the necessary academic knowledge about conducting effective interviews with victims and witnesses, users still would need extensive training to be able to successfully use the principles. For most NGOs, especially the frontline organisations combatting sexual violence who need these tools the most, they cannot seek out such training because it is time and cost prohibitive.

Research by and large has found that that interview principles are difficult to grasp and teach. People who have been extensively trained quickly deviate from best practice, and without ongoing training and mentoring, training programmes are ineffective.

The training programme we have developed equips the Survivors’ Network with essential skills to document cases and provide essential information to establish crimes and preserve and protect memory evidence to enable survivors to achieve justice in humanitarian contexts. We look forward to piloting the programme this weekend, evaluating and honing it for wider use.

Contact us for more information.

Dr. Heather D. Flowe

Reader in Psychology at University of Birmingham

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