Friday, May 10, 2013

Reporting back from the 57th UN CSW

I attended several sessions at the Church Center before the end of the second week. The last session I attended was sponsored by Lawyers without Borders. It was interactive and gave all of us present a chance to participate in the development of strategies to ensure appropriate law enforcement and police protection for victims of rape, sexual harassment and abuse.

Lawyers Without Borders is an international non-profit organization founded in 2000, which operates worldwide from its central headquarters located in Hartford, Connecticut, U.S.A. It has only one affiliate: Lawyers Without Borders UK founded in 2003, headquartered in London, which acquired UK charity status in June 2010. Lawyers from around the world are engaged as volunteers either individually or through their employers (law firm and in-house corporate) who support LWOB as pro bono partners. To date, the countries which contribute the largest number of lawyer volunteers to LWOB field work are United States, Canada, United Kingdom and Australia.

The session was hosted by the LWOB CEO and Executive Director, Christina Storm ( Lined up behind Christina were four young women – all law students from Yale. The session was an exercise, using the book “What Would You Do…” The book was set up as a group exercise and was described as “become Maria as she reacts to her employer’s sexual advances at work in a small shop. This is an exercise designed to generate discussion about the workplace, sexual advances and assault and how culture, family, friends, NGOs, the police and court factor into gender violence.” The room was broken into groups to discuss various scenarios that Maria could face in such a situation (all described in the book and with assistance from the four Yale law students). The scenarios ranged from a negative scene whereby Maria showers and destroys evidence, another somewhat negative experience where Maria goes to the police and the courts for help, and a third positive scene where she receives good advice and a conviction for the perpetrator. Post breakouts, each group reported out on their talks. The game’s purpose was “to create a deeper understanding of the pressure Maria faces, her responses and the junctures in an imminent gender violence situation, where family, friends, courts and police can take action to affect the choices people and the impact of those actions and responses on the victim of a sexual assault.” In each scenario, no assault actually takes place, although clearly one is imminent, and how the power of early intervention may look differently in different cultures. Group readouts made it clear that there is no single best way to approach early intervention – a critical component in any sexual violent incident. Differences in countries and cultures are at play – sometimes family is the best help, sometimes police and/or the courts (certainly not always). We learned the importance of evidence gathering – strong verbal and written evidence is the best. We learned how a victim’s interaction with the police and the courts often happens and how having a witness or friend (family or otherwise) can be critical to a positive outcome. Another person can serve as a support system, a “validator of your credibility,” and a calm source for information gathering/sharing. A US doctor let participants know that it is IMPERATIVE that women in rape situations DEMAND a “rape kit” exam in any ER setting, although a New York attorney remarked that NYC is “thousands of kits behind” in processing. Another well received comment was that part of the problem are police forces that need a better gender balance.

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