Someone’s Gotta Say It
Kindred Spirits Work to End Gender-Based Violence Around the World
By Marina Sampanes Peed
Executive Director of Mosaic Georgia
“The value of these exchanges and experiences includes building global solidarity in the mission toward a world free of violence.”
Lagan Denhard, MPH, Health Scientist, Gender & Youth Team, HIV Prevention Branch, Global Health Center, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention
In October, Mosaic Georgia had the privilege of hosting a learning exchange with 30 public health practitioners from 21 countries across Africa, Asia, and the Americas, organized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Global Health Center – HIV Prevention Branch. This remarkable gathering brought together practitioners from the Gender & Youth team, collectively dedicated to addressing Gender-Based Violence (GBV) on a global scale.
GBV, an internationally recognized term, includes any type of harm that is perpetrated against a person or group of people because of their factual or perceived sex, gender, sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
The US Department of State shares, “Although persons of all gender identities may experience gender-based violence, women girls, and gender non-conforming persons face disproportionate risks across every context due to their unequal status in society.” Types of GBV include child sexual abuse; physical violence; intimate partner violence; all forms of sexual violence including forced prostitution, sex trafficking, conflict-related, forced pregnancy; child, early, and forced marriage; femicide; honor-based violence; female genital mutilation/cutting; technology-facilitated; and femicide.
Our excitement to show Mosaic Georgia’s community-based approach to preventing and responding to child abuse and gender-based violence in Gwinnett was met with curiosity and insightful questions.
The cornerstone of our model lies in providing specialty care outside traditional institutional settings like hospitals. Many hospitals worldwide lack the resources and expertise to provide trauma-focused care and support for patients who experienced sexual violence and the forensic & evidentiary practices needed to secure evidence for investigative purposes. We take great pride in being the first sexual assault center in Georgia to bring medical forensic care into a private, community-based setting 30 years ago. Mosaic Georgia shares proven practices with other communities in Georgia and states around the country.
One aspect of our approach that resonated profoundly is the practice of an advocate staying with the victim/patient during the medical forensic exam. One visitor remarked, “I think more young women would have the exam if they had confidential support. They are afraid to tell anyone for the shame it will bring to their family.”
Our international colleagues are no strangers to the challenges of addressing and preventing gender-based violence. The Global Health Center’s Gender & Youth team focuses on youth-specific and Gender Based Violence (GBV) programming as cross-cutting priorities in ending HIV as a public health threat. Many of them are providers themselves or have played critical roles in ensuring or expanding services for victims and survivors. At our gathering we learned about how CDC offices around the world are engaged in supporting GBV prevention and response efforts in one-stop public facilities, in communities, within integrated primary care services, in standalone clinics for the LGBTQ+ community, and for sex workers.
We have much in common with our colleagues despite visible differences such as nation wealth, household income, technology access, literacy rates, etc. For example, when crises arise (i.e., natural disaster, pandemic, economic scarcity), so does gender-based violence. The pandemic brought with it a rise in child sexual abuse here in Georgia. This very intimate violence creates additional trauma in an already stressful circumstance. Violence takes a long-term toll on physical and mental health, relationships, and overall quality of life.
There was great interest in how we maintain the trust of survivors and the respect of law enforcement when dealing with the complexities of these harms. We are fortunate to have an active, ongoing relationship with our local law enforcement agencies. The multi-disciplinary team model, adopted by Children’s Advocacy Centers across the country, stresses building relationships, regular meetings, recognizing and respecting each discipline’s roles and limitations, and healthy conflict resolution skills. Success requires mature leadership of all institutions to fully support the model. Again, the community-based setting creates a neutral forum for sometimes uncomfortable conversations.
From a public policy perspective, the community protocols for child abuse and sexual assault response and Georgia’s Sexual Assault Kit Tracking program generated a lot of discussion. They questioned how effective these measures are and if all parties participate. We explained the protocols must be certified by the Chief Justice of the Superior Court and filed with the State, and the Governor receives a report of Counties that are not in compliance. This is a strong incentive to participate, regardless of the political party in power.
During our exchange, common themes emerged.
A. Shame wields significant power. People – including faith communities, families, schools, and social groups – are uncomfortable talking about natural sexual development, sexuality, and sexual abuse & violence. Euphemisms are used to avoid offending others or causing embarrassment. This is intriguing given the widespread use of pornography.
B. Gender-based violence is widely under-reported due to victims’ unequal social standing as compared to heterosexual males. Homosexuality is a crime in some countries and culturally shamed in many others. Predators abuse these vulnerabilities with little risk to their safety or reputation.
C. Withdrawal or recantation of an abuse/assault report is common, especially among young victims. The reception of the outcry and the treatment thereafter often causes significant family disruption or financial pressures. Stigma tends to be placed on survivors more than perpetrators in every country.
D. At the same time, psychosocial support, especially when facilitated by peer navigators / advocates, holds immense power for survivors in the healing process.
E. The need for new strategies and accountability tools to prevent GBV, as no country has succeeded in reducing sexual violence with its criminal justice system alone.
Several opportunities to improving trust and safety for people most vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse and violence were lifted up:
- Early education of boys and girls on self-respect, empathy, healthy communication, can build a foundation for strong, healthy relationships.
- Develop and support community-based peer navigators/advocates with knowledge and skills for confidential, judgement-free psychosocial support. Supporting local communities with trauma-informed training and activities can initiate great healing. Train-the-trainer models with sample program outlines/curricula can help jumpstart discussion for a community to create their own programs.
- Build in training and understanding of the dynamics of Gender-Based Violence and maltreatment in public safety policies & practices. Include skill-building on trauma-informed practices when engaging with a victim of such interpersonal violence.
Our Wholeness Collective has harnessed the power of healing and mind-centering activities such as yoga, painting, dance, music, and spoken word in trauma-informed ways which reduces trauma symptoms of participants. These activities offer a path to healing that transcends language and cultural differences.
In light of these discussions, it’s evident that even when considerable economic power exists, the political will and commitment to end gender-based and sexualized violence worldwide has the capacity to be further strengthened. Cultural norms continue to shape attitudes toward gender and violence. When your ZIP code or village shapes your life experience and potential, the disproportionate male representation in local government contributes to the complexity of addressing GBV.
We recognize that this journey to reduce gender-based violence is one that transcends borders and demands collective action. The practitioners in Botswana, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Eswatini (formerly called Swaziland), Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe left us with inspiration and hope that we can each make a difference in our communities, with what we have.
The sounds of hope, resilience, and persistence rang loud and clear.