Sexual Violence Program
Sexual violence occurs all over the world. It takes myriad forms – for example, sexual assault, rape, forced marriage, genital mutilation, or sexual slavery. It can happen in a bedroom, alleyway, or war zone. It can be used to assert power between a husband and wife or between rival political groups. And, though the vast majority of victims are women, men and boys can also be victims, and women can be perpetrators.
Despite numerous UN resolutions and other calls to halt sexual violence in both peace and wartime, many of these crimes have remained unprosecuted. Instead, survivors are left with patchwork medical attention, attenuated social support or witness protection, and limited access to justice. The Human Rights Center launched the Sexual Violence Program in summer 2010 to explore the relationship between peacetime levels of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and that which occurs in armed conflict and political unrest. Our aim is to use this knowledge to increase access to justice and support for survivors in both contexts. Through research and fieldwork, we produce comparative assessments, identify best practices, and inform policy related to accountability for, and protection from, SGBV.
The program studies two main issues:
First, we look at accountability measures for SGBV. To do this, we analyze legislation, investigative and prosecutorial practices, and judicial outcomes; we also assess the importance of psychosocial support and witness protection or community intervention. In addition to studying individual capacities in health, legal, forensic, judicial, and community sectors, we look at ways the linkages between them can be strengthened for the benefit of the survivor.
Protection: Safe Shelters
We also study a critical but largely ad hoc protection measure: SGBV “safe shelters.” Though a great diversity of shelters have sprung up in both peacetime and humanitarian contexts, little data is available regarding how they operate, what recurrent practical or ethical challenges they face, or how effective they are over time. Further, there is little capture of alternative protection mechanisms that have developed within communities. The Project is responding to this knowledge gap. In 2012, we are conducting a 4-country qualitative study on SGBV safe shelters and protection strategies in peacetime environments as well as communities displaced by conflict and political unrest. Our case studies focus on Haiti, Kenya, Colombia, and the Burmese border. Through careful investigation of diverse circumstances and models in these countries, we can improve understanding about SGBV protection structures in both peacetime and humanitarian contexts. By the end of 2012, we will produce a comparative assessment of our findings and submit formal recommendations regarding the question of SGBV safe shelters, as requested by the UN High Commission for Refugees.
To explore accountability and protection, the project engages in both research and fieldwork
With our interdisciplinary team of students from Berkeley’s law and public health schools, program staff publish foundational research in the Sexual Violence & Accountability Working Paper Series.
The Sexual Violence Program conducts accountability and protection-related fieldwork in countries marked by conflict-related SGBV. We work with government and civil society partners in host countries to critically assess existing SGBV response mechanisms in health, legal, law enforcement, judicial, and community advocacy sectors. Where appropriate, the project team then supports coordination of these mechanisms by promoting key linkages – as between first-responders in healthcare centers and police stations, or between formal and informal systems – to support a survivor’s progress through the justice process.
Ultimately, we will synthesize our research and fieldwork in Africa, South Asia, and Latin America in a comparative assessment of challenges and best practices for accountability for, and protection from, SGBV in and out of conflict.
Case Study: Kenya
Our first case study is Kenya, where the International Criminal Court is investigating 2008’s post-election violence including widespread sexual violence and where 2006 Sexual Violence Act has yet to be fully implemented.
In May 2011, the project hosted a Sexual Offences Act Implementation Workshop in Kenya. To ensure a critical cross-section of stakeholders and expertise, we partnered with Kenya’s Task Force on the Implementation of the Sexual Offences Act, the Federation of Women Lawyers – Kenya (FIDA-K), Liverpool VCT Care & Treatment (LVCT), the Coalition on Violence Against Women (COVAW), the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the Center for Rights, Education, and Awareness (CREAW), and AIDS Free World. The Workshop was the first meeting of its kind in Kenya – an intensive, intersectoral dialogue about improving response to sexual violence with critical, high level participation from both government and civil society. See the post-workshop report and summary of outcomes.
The Sexual Violence Program was launched with seed money from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Our Kenya work on implementation of the Sexual Offences Act is supported primarily by the Open Society Institute’s International Women’s Program.
The program’s ongoing work on accountability is supported by Humanity United. The program's work related to sexual and gender-based violence "safe shelters" is funded by the United States Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration and supported by the UNHCR Policy Development and Evaluation Service.
For more information, please contact Program Director Kim Thuy Seelinger.