Justice for Africa’s Sexual Violence Victims May Just Be a Click Away

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Search for justice is one course many victims of sexual violence in Africa would never contemplate, reason being that the end may never be close to the desired outcome.

There however, seems to be a light at the end of the dark tunnel as crime and memory experts at the University of Birmingham and partners in Africa are developing a mobile phone app that could help to reduce sexual violence in poorer countries and bring its perpetrators to justice.

Working with the Wangu Kanja Foundation (WKF), researchers are piloting the App, ‘MobApp’, across Kenya, which would help those who have survived sexual violence to support people through reporting, documenting and tracking new cases of sexual violence.

The team hopes that the new App would compliment their innovative and low-cost approaches for police interviews drawing upon best practice for obtaining memory evidence from rape victims in the UK. With this and crime linkage tools, the police would be enabled to prioritise cases and solve crimes committed by serial perpetrators.

Professor Jessica Woodhams, Director of the Centre for Applied Psychology at the University of Birmingham, who spoke on the new approach said, “MobApp’s potential to achieve justice for more victims via crime linkage should not be underestimated. Some rape series contain more than 50 offences, and apprehended rapists have reported committing an average of 7–11 rapes for every rape they were convicted for.”

Millions of women have fallen victim to series of sexual crimes including rape and intimate partner violence, most of which are never reported.

Supported by the University’s Institute of Global Innovation (IGI), Dr Heather Flowe, an IGI Fellow and researcher who studies how people remember and criminal events at the University of Birmingham, is working with partners at WKF to gather testimony from over 1,000 survivors.

They are working towards using the app to provide policy makers with country-wide data about sexual violence and police with information to help focus resources on areas requiring more attention.

“Survivors of sexual violence in countries such as Kenya face overly bureaucratic, poorly-resourced systems, laced with corruption, leading to myriad problems with the stories of survivors usually going unheard, Dr Heather Flowe said.

“As a result, survivors rarely report rape to the police, fearful of reprisal by the perpetrators; discouraged by improper practices and unsympathetic police officers; and the culture of stigma where victims seem more likely to be punished than perpetrators.

“In providing a wider picture of sexual violence characteristics, such as who’s perpetrating and who’s most at risk, MobApp can help reduce incidents; whether by improving security at high-risk locations or helping police prioritise cases by identifying serial perpetrators,” Dr Flowe stated.

The WKF has provided survivors with comprehensive support and encourages decision-makers to change the way in which sexual violence is reported and managed on a country-wide level.

The IGI and the Global Challenges Research Fund supported a number of visits to Kenya, where Dr Flowe and her team spent time with the WKF, who have been at the forefront of positive change since 2005.

WKF founder Wangu Kanja said, “Assault is not only a rape, it is also the re-traumatisation of survivors by a family that blames the survivor, by the relentless bureaucracy necessary to bring a case to the police, by intimidation to drop charges if they are pressed, and by the reality of having to see your rapist in court every few months for as many as ten years.”

Dr Flowe is working with an IGI supported interdisciplinary team from across the University, focusing on translating the Protocol for the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict for use by people on the ground, like smaller NGOs, in carrying out interviews to document sexual violence cases using best practice.

“MobApp data will help WKF and other organisations campaign for meaningful policy change, as the intimate and painful information collected from survivors requires a different approach to conventional surveys,” Dr. Flowe said.

Once the pilot project is completed, the team plan to roll it out further afield. The data and methodology already established through the project could equally inform similar pilot schemes in other resource-poor countries.

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