According to UNOCHA during the last civil conflict in Liberia, local media reported on a massive increase of sexual violence. Of the 658 rape survivors, nearly 50 per cent were between 5 and 12 years of age. In 90 per cent of the cases involving children, the perpetrator was someone known to the victim. This situation, we know, is not unique for Liberia.
In our work on and piloting of the training manual “Mental health and gender-based violence Helping survivors of sexual violence in conflict” we have been asked several times about how to approach child survivors of sexual violence. The manual we have developed refers primarily to women and girls as victims of sexual violence. However, we know that men and boys are also victims of rape and other sexual violence, what we have observed is that it tends to be especially difficult for them to overcome these experiences, to the point of avoiding in most of the cases, talk about it. In our manual we have introduced a number of bibliographic references related to gender violence that can be used to understand a little better the situation in which men and children are trying to overcome and although in the manual are not developed in detail its own needs, links and bibliographical references included there, can help answer the questions that may arise in relation to such support specifically to them.
When talking to child survivors the use of metaphors may be a useful tool. We have used the metaphor of the butterfly woman in order to speak of the trauma event. With children you might want to use another story where the child is the hero/heroine. The grounding exercises in our manual may also be suitable for older children. For younger children you will find some good grounding exercises here.
Nevertheless we believe this manual is suitable for work with male survivors of gender-based violence as well, provided it is adapted appropriately. But a separate training module would be required for working with children (boys and girls) who survive GBV.
When preparing the manual, we did a desk review study. When doing this we found that there is little written about how to assist, and how to heal children after sexual violence in war and conflict. We have seen that a majority of publications related to this topic is related to sexual violence in close relationships.
The importance now is to focus more clearly on the situation of children survivors of sexual violence in war and conflict, who in addition to sexual violence, usually have endured other traumatic experiences as well, in situations defined by insecurity and lack of basic needs All this may inflict strongly on the short as well as long term consequences of sexual violence.
A large part of the literature concerns children, sexual violation focus on legal protection, legal provision and legal measures. We have here listed a few publications, guidelines and websites that will say more about the mental health aspect and the difference in how children and grownups react to the traumatic experience of sexual violence.
Some of you have received the manual already. For others we would like to invite you to have a closer look at the manual. It can be downloaded directly from the webpage. Please let us know if you are interested in receiving a copy of the manual, free of charge by sending us an e-mail.