SGBV and Healing:Intervention recommendations by CSVR practitioners

Following the previous blog, Don’t call me a ‘women’, in which reflections focused on SGBV in South Africa and its escalation, the CSVR Mental health and Psychosocial team set together to brainstorm ways of intervening. CSVR has for the past 30 years been offering mental health and psychosocial interventions for survivors of sexual and gender based violence (SGBV). Based on the experience of the Mental health and Psychosocial services (MHPSS) team the following recommendations are highlighted for addressing SGBV in South Africa:

  • Interventions should incorporate the various other socio-political and economic issues that emerge in various contexts. Adopting the medical model, tends to focus on immediate causation, and ignore important aspects such as ideology which may provide deeper insight into the nature of violence and how it presents itself in different contexts.
  • Interventions may include channeling funds towards the prevention of violence, and towards mental health interventions at primary health level (clinics). The role of multidisciplinary mental health and psychosocial practitioners is important for after care and support of family systems in cases of violence. At community level, workshops and psychoeducation would assist in re-shaping the beliefs of communities. Psychosocial interventions are not limited to individualised aspects of violence, they encompass ideology, identity, and context-specific understanding of misogyny and the drivers for violence against gendered bodies. These permit for the explication of violence at the source, approaching violence as part of human behaviour, approaching people in violent spaces as social and political beings.
  • Police and other centres of care should be looking into these factors, and consider the broader implications of not bringing justice to families.
  • Healthcare workers can invest in psychosocial support and not only focus on the biological/medical aspects of alleviating trauma.
  • At present, most service providers and resources that have been commissioned to combat violence have been overwhelmed. There is a need for grass roots organisations to explore how to develop cost-effective initiatives that are co-created with community members to combat SGBV preferably utilising resources that are readily available.
  • Responses to SGBV need to be multi-layered, as the root causes of violence such as SGBV are also multi-layered. They should therefore address issues such as cultural norms, inequality, poverty, socio-political, race relations, unresolved trauma and other mental health challenges. They should be long-term focused and not purely centred on crisis management. Short-term responses to violence often provide immediate relief, thus leaving victims in the same psychological state. The impacts of abuse and the subsequent displacement from their homes often cripples them socioeconomically. Many victims of IPV resolve to go back to the relationships that were abusive because there is no long-term plan.
  • Services and initiatives that respond to SGBV should be community-focused, and should not only adopt an individual lens. Fostering a community perspective allows the organisation to target violence and inequality from multiple dimensions.
  • Conversations about healing of society from SGBV involves the interrogation of psychosocial interventions and the unpacking of societal ideologies to shift consciousness about SGBV.
  • Furthermore, responses should not be focused only a specific sector (e.g. the justice system) as there are multiple layers of violence that need to be tackled. For example, the justice system forces perpetrators to be accountable, but does not effectively enforce rehabilitation and reparation. A popular focus of campaigns and interventions has been on reporting acts of SGBV, whereas the problem does not rest solely in the criminal defence system. CBOs and community members also have a responsibility to create and maintain safe spaces. Culturally/traditionally, the focus has been on building and retaining the family unit, which is often accommodative of DV. As a result, society has become desensitised to IPV and DV remains under reported. Furthermore, there is an emerging distrust between communities and the justice system because the police force/personnel may not be attending to these cases adequately.
  • Conversations about violence should not be disconnected from the history of violence – violence is often used by men as a tool for submission – to retain their sense of power and masculinity, and re-claim the power that systemic issues and feminist discourse have “stripped them of”. The interventions need to be conscious of harmful cultural practices and discourse that perpetuate violence that impacts upon gendered bodies. Why are our interventions not dealing with the history? They tend to focus on the issue in the moment – like the reason for referral, and not the other systemic issues that have contributed. Interventions typically are focused on specific aspects, including victims and not perpetrators.
  • There needs to be a dialogue about key issues: violent culture has “resolved” a lot of societal issues in the past. This needs to be unlearned as a solution to problems. Culture is deeply entrenched and is the manner in which we have learned to manage conflicts and to bring about discipline, progress, and change. Have we noticed how violence has “worked” so that we can debunk the misconceptions of how violence “works”? Women are not saying that they don’t want to be mothers or wives or women – they just do not want to be assaulted and raped.
  • Moving SGBV from the “woman vs men” issue, whereas it is a societal problem. We need to shift the reflection to what it does to society as a whole. It is important to re-build the nation as a whole, and not focus on women as the victims and the sole bearers of the violence. Explore what women empowerment means for society as social development, instead of as women empowerment for women

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

Recommendations compiled by the CSVR Mental Health and Psychosocial team

Published by CSVR Trauma Clinic

This blog represents thoughts of therapist working within the CSVR Trauma Clinic. The focus is on understanding the drivers and impact of violence on individuals, families and communities to work towards violence prevention and the building of peaceful societies

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