04/09/2015

Sexual Violence Management Conference gives the humanitarian sector action points to prevent and manage sexual violence


The Sexual Violence Management Conference for the Humanitarian sector saw over 50 security, health, well-being and Human Resources (HR) experts come together to find ways to improve the management of sexual violence in the humanitarian and development sector. The event was organised in partnership with Alexandre Carle from OTHER SOLUTIONS and Catherine Plumridge from Humanitrain.

Read the full conference report here. 

The seriousness of the issue has recently been highlighted following aid worker Megan Norbert's revelation that she was raped by a contractor from another agency in South Sudan. The video below highlights how much of a problem sexual violence is in the humanitarian and development sector.

Participants at the event in London on 3 September, included representatives from organisations such as Save the Children UK, Oxfam, Médecins Sans Frontières, Christian Aid, British Red Cross, CAFOD, the ICRC, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the European Commission. 

Participants heard about the issue from the perspectives of:

  • The Guardian Global Development Professionals Network. Content coordinator Anna Leach shared stories from a recent series on aid workers’ experiences of sexual violence and harassment. 
  • Megan Norbert. The sexual violence survivor was unable to be at the event but remotely shared her moving story of being raped in South Sudan by a contractor from another agency and what she felt was a lack of support from her employer in the aftermath. Megan is currently conducting a survey of aid worker experiences here.
  • The Headington Institute, California, who partners with aid organisations to ensure the wellbeing of staff. The institute’s Assistant Director Alicia Jones highlighted that existing data on the issue is incomplete meaning the nature and scope of the issue is unknown. The institute estimates that 4000-8000 of 400,000 humanitarian workers have been impacted by unwanted sexual contact in the last five years alone.
  • The Havens, specialist sexual assault referral centres. Dr Muriel Volpellier and Dr Susan Bayley gave a presentation on rape crisis, disclosure, medical intervention and care.
  • Metropolitan Police Service: Detective Sergeant O’ Sullivan and PC Unwin shared the role of the police in responding to sexual violence victims, also highlighting their close collaboration with the Havens to ensure comprehensive support to the victims.
  • Foreign & Commonwealth Office: Zarine Russell shared her department’s role in providing consular assistance to those affected overseas.
  • InterHealth Worldwide: Clinical psychologist Dr Beth Hill discussed the psychological support needs of individuals who have experienced sexual violence and how to meet those needs.

The video below highlights support and help available for affected staff.

Terminology

It’s important to allow someone who has experienced sexual violence the opportunity to decide whether they want to be referred to as a “survivor” or a “victim”. The Metropolitan Police uses the term “victim” as someone has been a victim of a crime whereas others prefer the term “survivor”. It is important to give control back to those affected by sexual assault, even for what might be seen as the label they got because of what has happened to them.

Tips for when someone comes to you to disclose a sexual violence issue

  • Listen and ensure you are really present and there for them,
  • do not judge, 
  • be sensitive, 
  • provide help.

The London Metropolitan Police also explained the importance of not judging and believing everything a victim tells you when they first tell you their story.

Helpful phrases to use when determining what happened are: 

  • tell me 
  • precisely
  • explain to me
  • in detail
  • describe to me
  • exactly

The day concluded with participants brainstorming action points they could take back to their agencies to improve sexual violence prevention and management.

Action points

  • Map existing services in advance of an incident and ensure all staff are aware of where they are and who to contact if something happens.
  • Increase awareness of the issue and acknowledge it is a real risk to staff before they are deployed.
  • Put steps in place so someone does not have to speak to too many people unnecessarily about their experience (e.g. have a focal point) and ensure the issue is treated confidentially.
  • Train all staff on how to respond, as anyone could be a first responder not just those in Human Resources (HR) or security.
  • Ensure PEP (Post-exposure prophylaxis) kits will be available if needed.

The video below also shares tips for agencies to improvement their prevention and management of the issue.

Resources

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