Wednesday, May 13, 2015

"Looking through the Diamond": Legal Dimensions

The third dimension that I have encountered on this trip is legal.

Legal Dimensions of Aftercare

There are many different opinions out there about how important this aspect of aftercare is for individual survivors. Some organizations operate under a belief that it is better not to involve law enforcement, criminal justice systems, or the government in a survivor’s case. While I can understand this perspective, after all of my experiences, I simply do not agree. I must be careful to be crystal clear here, though. Individual survivors should never be forced to testify against their will, nor should they be asked to do so before emotionally ready. However, my reason for the necessity of legal services in aftercare is twofold:

  1. For a victim of sexual exploitation to understand that they were, in fact, a victim of a crime and choose to seek justice can be therapeutic, and this often paves the way for their journey to survivor and even advocate.
  2. Long-term change in this area will never occur until there are foreseeable consequences for perpetrators. This can only be achieved if individual cases are brought to trial and result in a significant sentence for those guilty of sexual exploitation or abuse.

This is the kind of balanced perspective I have developed on my travels. You must simultaneously value both individual survivors’ agency and sustainable, systemic change. In the case of legal services, there is a clear need from both perspectives.

Example from Thailand: The Hug Project

The Hug Project attempts to address the problem of sexual exploitation through prevention, protection, and restoration. Their work in the area of protection, however, I would still consider a part of the legal dimension of aftercare. The organization’s protection project seeks to assist victims in the legal process associated with their case. Here is how it works:

Unfortunately, when a victim is rescued from a situation of sexual exploitation (particularly for cases of trafficking), the trauma is not completely in the rear view mirror. Those rescued often must give statements, undergo medical tests, and endure other invasive measures for the sake of evidence-gathering. Many times, police or medical personnel are not trained properly for interacting with victims of any kind of trauma – much less sexual trauma. For this reason, the aftermath of a rescue can be just as traumatizing for a victim than the original exploitation.

Here is where The Hug Project - in collaboration with Child Protection Unit Police, Region 5 and other NGO partners - steps in. These partnered organizations have started a new initiative of the Children Advocacy Center, which allows staff to interview minor victims in a safe environment while police look on from another room. This interview is specifically designed to be age appropriate. This incredible initiative beautifully prioritizes both the need for evidence gathering in order to ensure justice and the need to protect the victim from further trauma.

Other Organizations

Here are some other great organizations that I’ve encountered in other countries on my travels. I include these to show that there are different ways – beyond just evidence gathering – that the legal dimension of aftercare can be addressed.

International Justice Mission: employs national lawyers in over a dozen countries in the developing world to serve as advocates for victims of sexual exploitation (as well as victims of other forms of violent oppression), who would normally be assigned a public prosecutor. In countries like the ones I have visited, these prosecutors are overworked and the court structures make reaching a guilty verdict extremely difficult – nearly impossible. IJM fills this gap by providing victims with a lawyer who will manage their case, bring compiled evidence to the court, and stand up for the victim’s rights along the way. Find out more about International Justice Mission here.

International Organization for Migration: assists in the repatriation process for victims who have fallen victim to forced migration. Many of these victims have been trafficked for the sake of sexual exploitation. IOM attempts to reduce the barriers for survivors to escape this kind of oppression by paving the way for their safe repatriation - even though they may be illegal immigrants in their current country of residence. Find out more about the work of International Organization for Migration here.

Renew Foundation, The Philippines: provides services to victims of sexual exploitation that I haven’t encountered in any other organization. Their work includes many other forms of restoration, but the legal aid provided to victims is proving to be a great success in securing justice. Renew Foundation works with women who have become pregnant as a result of sexual exploitation to legally require child support from the foreign father of their child. This not only adds deterrence for future perpetrators, but it assists the women in leaving their exploitative situation. If you would like to find out about the other work Renew Foundation is doing, check out their website.






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