The impunity of silence among victims of domestic, sexual and gender based violence is one that has been sustained from one generation to the other despite all that has been said and done to end it. For many victims, speaking out is not an option and they would rather die than speak and indeed many have paid the ultimate price for refusing to speak out when they should. Why encourage people to speak out when it is obvious they would rather die in silence? Many would ask and I will say that for as long as people continue to die and suffer grievous consequences as a result of speaking up, then we must continue to talk.
There are several ways of ending the impunity of silence; one of the ways this can be achieved is by ending stigma and discrimination. Every form of stigma and discrimination against victims must be discouraged because for every one victim who becomes stigmatized and discriminated on account of sharing their stories, many more uphold the culture of silence. Therefore, to end the culture of silence, victims must be shielded from not just the stigma and discrimination that occurs with their experiences but also that which comes with talking about their experiences.
The importance of creating awareness on the need to end the culture of silence among victims of domestic, sexual and gender based violence cannot be over emphasized because awareness is key in tackling ignorance which is one of the reasons.
Many victims have been threatened with death, physical harm and even the death of their beloved if they ever spoke up and so they have maintained the culture of silence. We must therefore create more awareness on the need to discard such control mechanisms and speak up.
Policies and procedures that safeguard the dignity of victims and those involved in the fight against human trafficking should be implemented. They include: Disclosure and confidentiality policy, Data protection policy, Professional boundaries, Staff support supervision and development, Stress management policy etc.
Other ways include Encouraging victims to speak up by offering them protection in a safe shelter while investigation and prosecution is ongoing. Prompt and diligent prosecution of traffickers in a competent court of law and Proper rehabilitation of victims in well-equipped shelters such as psycho-social, medical and humanitarian support.
First responders such as Law Enforcement Agencies, counsellors, caregivers etc. have an important role to play in ending the impunity of silence among victims by their manner of approach, the kind of questions law enforcement agents ask during interrogation and how counselling and psychological support is offered victims should reassure victims of their concern, devoid of markers of stigma and discrimination. Counsellors and caregivers including medical practitioners must be professional in their approach and create an enabling environment for victims to narrate their experiences and maintain a reasonable distance at all times.
The role of the media in ensuring that the culture of silence is eradicated cannot be over emphasized. In the reportage of human trafficking news, the media must understand that they could either make or mar victims by their choice of words and careful not to report human trafficking news in a sensational way that takes away the seriousness of the crime. The interest of victims must be taken to heart and ensure that words that are derogatory, condescending and inciting are not used to describe victims and their experiences.
The fight against human trafficking must be done in such a way that the rights and dignity of victims are protected. It is necessary to ensure that victims give their consent before we share their story or feature them in any event. In the reportage of cases of human trafficking, irregular migration and all forms of sexual and gender based violence, we must ensure that the right words and images are used.
The fight against human trafficking must have the interest of victims at heart. This means that beyond rescuing victims and ending the culture of silence, we must also go further to empower them. Empowerment must be based on the needs of different victims. Some victims, especially those who had access to formal education before they were trafficked would prefer educational support in the form of scholarship that will enable them return to school to continue from where they stopped. For others, they prefer start up capitals to enable them implement a business idea they had nurtured. Others would subscribe to skill acquisition training before they are established.
There is the need for proper monitoring to ensure that victims when empowered use the funds judiciously. This is important because I have experienced cases where victims are given start up capitals and rather than trade with the money, they engage in all forms of frivolous expenditure and when their capital has been exhausted, they become even more vulnerable, hence the need for constant supervision and monitoring to ensure interventions are impactful and sustainable.