The role of the law and lawyers in eliminating violence against women

We were greeted at the door with a sign-in sheet, asking for names and email addresses, and handed a small tote bag with the Lawyers Without Borders logo. Inside the tote bag were literature and some interesting items: a small key chain that appeared to be a thumb drive and a small “Go Girl” tube. The thumb drive turned out to be a handy combination tool – a whistle, compass and small light keychain. The “Go Girl” tube (subtitled ‘Don’t Take Life Sitting Down’) was a clever kit that included one ‘gogirl’ paper gizmo, tissue and a biodegradable baggie that allows women to urinate standing up in a hygienic, portable, discreet and reusable manner.

Literature included the 2011 Lawyers Without Borders 2011 Annual Report, a “Border Briefs” newsletter, two booklets written in full color comic book style: Leo…Kesho-Planning Today for Our Children’s Tomorrow” and “Baby’s Story,” and a small book entitled “What Would You Do If You Were IN MY SHOES?”
The Annual Report provides the LWOB motto, “Crossing Borders to Make A Difference,” and describes the LWOB goals as: “work to protect the integrity of the judicial process worldwide by harnessing and channeling pro bono volunteer services of lawyers and judges from around the world into rule of law programming. Our objec- tives are achieved through development of programs that support transparency, capacity building, conflict resolution, access to justice and service to the underserved. We aim to keep ourselves and our work neutrally oriented.”

The Fall 2012 issue of “Border Briefs” spoke of current events, including the LWOB at the UN, a Human Trafficking Grant Award, book donations to Albania, a graphic novel update, a Kenya trial advocacy training debrief, a section on interns and graduate students and highlights the achievements of tow LWOB volun- teers, Eleanor Sanderson of the UK and Steven Oates of Switzerland. It also included LWOB contact infor- mation (860.541.2288 or
Both booklets are colorful and designed to be easily understood by those with (perhaps) limited literacy skills, making them useful in a variety of global settings.

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.”

Ms. Storm also let the participants know that the booklet is in its second version. The first version took sevenyears to produce. Upon learning that the LWOB would be doing a presentation at this event, Storm con- tacted Yale University and the four young women were recruited to develop a training exercise for this session. With a thirty five day deadline, the book was the product of their research. It is an amazing piece of work that can be replicated in other settings.
More importantly, the results of the session will assist in the development of a LWOB training for three different countries – so participant feedback and exercise readouts were particularly important.

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 under- standing of the pressure Maria faces, her responses and the junctures in an imminent gender violence situa- tion, 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 IMPERA- TIVE that women in rape situations DEMAND a “rape kit” exam in any ER setting, although a New York attor- ney 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.

Concerns about how to find help were addressed: create billboards with information, ads in newspapers/radio/PSAs, as well as educating health professionals of resources available. A sobering statistic was provided by a US doctor who reported on a study showing most police (98%+) think victims are lying, while 98%+ of victims do have corroborating evidence that they are telling the truth. Furthermore, discus- sion took place of the need to go beyond reporting, to the establishment of a “safe place to go” in the event a woman faces domestic/sexual violence. NGOs can help in this regard and often do.
A union activist reminded the participants that a unionized workplace also provides a service by providing a woman representation in employment and helps in both dealing with the perpetrator and in securing the professional help needed for follow-up services.

While it would be almost impossible to write of all the exchanges and advice shared, it was a lively discussion and great exchange of information. Clearly, cultural differences make for different approaches in different settings. Just as clearly, having an advocate on your side is a critical element in dealing with the psychological and societal issues surrounding domestic/sexual violence. As women, it behooves us to share our stories, successful or otherwise, in order to better learn how to slow down and eradicate sexual violence and support each other.

Submitted By: CWA Volunteer, Nancy A. Biagini-legislation and Human Rights