Kenya: Innovative technology, a pathway to justice for survivors
One of the main obstacles faced by survivors of sexual violence when seeking justice is limited and poor-quality medical-legal documentation to corroborate their claims. This is due to many factors, including insufficient resources and gaps in support and training for relevant professionals. The COVID-19 crisis heightened these challenges, as training for service providers was suspended and access to post-rape care became even more restricted.
Supported by the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women for the third time, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), a human rights organization, is running a project to improve access to medical care and justice for survivors of sexual violence in the context of the pandemic. The current project builds on the first two by furthering our initiatives focused on mentorship and institutional capacity development in partnership with key health facilities, as these strategies have proven to be important catalysts for changing systems and practices to improve service provision for survivors.
“For survivors of sexual violence, timely and high-quality forensic examination, evidence collection, and documentation are a vital part of comprehensive care and access to justice,” explains Naitore Nyamu, Head of PHR’s Kenya Office.
PHR conducts multisectoral training and capacity development activities that bring together critical stakeholders from various fields – including health, legal, law enforcement and civil society actors – to equip them with the necessary skills to collect, document and preserve forensic and medical evidence in cases of sexual violence, and provide comprehensive care services to survivors. These workshops have already been attended by 117 professionals, who now work together using common methods and a shared language. To date, they have reached over 4,300 women and girls.
“One of the biggest challenges of response to sexual and gender-based violence is limited or no collaboration among the key actors” explains a professional at a network meeting.
PHR has developed multiple cross-sectoral networks of professionals at county, national and regional levels, all committed to using medical and forensic evidence to promote survivors’ access to justice. By using WhatsApp groups and other digital tools, during and even beyond the COVID-19 crisis, network members are able to convene regularly and share best practices in a safe online environment.
Forensic documentation is extremely important and yet persistent shortcomings such as insufficient or loss of evidence, inadequate storing methods, can push survivors further away from justice. In response, PHR and medical partners in Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo developed the mobile app MediCapt. Clinicians use this pioneering app to digitally document and safely store forensic evidence of sexual violence, using tamper-proof metadata and sophisticated encryption which not only can ensure survivors’ anonymity but also secured transmission to relevant authorities to support investigations and prosecutions.
The award-winning app, which facilitates evidence collection in diverse contexts, has been upgraded to accommodate local languages and offline use in remote areas with little or no internet connection.
Notably, the app was designed using a survivor-centred and rights-based collaborative approach. Survivors’ groups were encouraged to give feedback as the app was developed and obtaining informed consent from patients has been incorporated into each step of the evidence collection process.
As a result, says Naitore Nyamu, “survivors of sexual violence can access survivor-centred medical care and forensic documentation services, and ultimately justice”.