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01 December 2015

“We have been harmed but we are brave and strong”

Survivors need psychosocial support from trained staff, societal recognition, justice by seeing perpetrators punished, and adequate financial support for projects combating sexualised violence – these are the demands voiced at a symposium organised by medica mondiale on November 30, 2015. Some 100 women and a few men came together at the GLS Campus in Berlin to discuss the long-term consequences of wartime rape and the resultant challenges for society, government and the specialist professions.

The focus of the symposium was the study: "We are still alive! We have been harmed but we are brave and strong." This investigation of survivors of sexualised wartime violence was carried out by medica mondiale and its Bosnian partner organisation and shows: the violence experienced during the war is still having an impact 20 years later.

A further symposium topic: Half of all of today's elderly women are still suffering from the consequences of the rape during World War II. This is demonstrated by the results of a study from the University of Greifswald. In the afternoon workshops, various expert speakers presented theoretical backgrounds and support approaches for survivors of wartime rapes.

It is the duty of the whole of society to work against the ongoing isolation and stigmatisation of suvivors

In the symposium's closing speech, Monika Hauser, founder of the women's rights organisation medica mondiale, told the participants it was the duty of the whole of society to work against the ongoing isolation and stigmatisation of women and girls. Here, the role played by raising awareness of sexualised violence and its prevention is just as important as the role played by creating safe spaces for survivors to talk about their experiences. With view to the situation of refugee women in Germany, Ms Hauser criticised the lack of consideration shown by the admission procedures for the gender-specific issues that lead women to become refugees and the gender-specific violence they experience before, during and after their escape.

"Some of these women have been fleeing for a year or more. What they all need now more than anything else is security," explained Esther Mujawajo, a Rwandan trauma therapist at the Psychosocial Centre for Refugees and Victims of Torture in Düsseldorf. "And that includes having a lock on the shower door in their refugee centre." Luise Reddemann, Professor for Psychotraumatology at the University of Klagenfurt stressed the need of survivors of sexualised violence for much more than psychotherapy: respectful, humane support and recognition of their suffering. Furthermore, they should be encouraged to empower themselves - now and in the future.

The topics of dealing with trauma and stress should be included in the work of the specialist and networking units dealing with refugees

"Politics begins by speaking out about what the situation is." This is how Birgit Schweikert, department of gender equality and head of the directorate 40 at the German Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, began her contribution, in which she announced how the topics of dealing with trauma and stress would be included in the work of the specialist and networking units dealing with refugees. The same applies also to the implementation of the EU admission policies in German law.

All participants in the closing discussion, which was enthusiastically hosted by Helga Kirchner, retired WDR Editor-in-Chief, were in agreement: Basic training in recognising and dealing with the consequences of traumatic experiences has to be urgently provided to everyone involved in helping refugees, from volunteers to doctors, therapists, local government workers and old age care workers. Currently, medica mondiale is involved in the planning of a pilot project in North Rhine-Westphalia to impart the most important skills and knowledge on the topic of trauma to volunteers and professionals who are working with refugee women.

 

Summary of the study "We are still alive. We have been harmed but we are brave and strong." on the long-term consequences of war rape and coping strategies of survivors in Bosnia and Herzegovina

A video presents the results of the study "We are still alive. We have been harmed but we are brave and strong."