Why are you interested in gender-based violence work?
I got into this work almost 20 years ago because I was interested in adolescent health. Once you start to learn about the number of young people experiencing sexual violence worldwide, it becomes hard to ignore. One in three girls and one in seven boys experience sexual violence. Think about that next time you pass a group of children in a playground. It is extremely alarming and a public health crisis in both developing countries and the United States.
JSI is really an emerging leader in addressing sexual violence against children and adolescents. I’ve gotten to interact with people around the world who work directly on these issues: NGO staff, doctors, nurses, forensic examiners, staff at violence safe houses, mental health professionals, academics, and others who help children and adolescents who have experienced sexual violence. These interactions motivate me and keep me involved in GBV work.
Please tell us more specifically what you do.
My work with GBV and sexual violence against children and adolescents took off when I worked with JSI’s AIDStar-One project. I managed the orphan and vulnerable children (OVC) portfolio, and we developed global technical guidance for clinicians on how to manage children and adolescents who have experienced sexual violence, together with partner Encompass.
Globally, there was limited guidance on how to manage sexual violence for young people, so this work filled a huge gap. When a 14 year-old girl who’s been sexually violated comes to a health facility for medical treatment, she needs more long-term care as well as the immediate services. Under the AIDSFree project we developed companion guidance which provided a basic framework, examples, resources, and tools on setting up these critical social/community linkages and maintaining a referral network between communities, social services, and health services to help further comprehensive care. I’m really proud of this work.
What are some challenges of doing GBV work?
This work requires broad multi-sectoral cooperation and that’s always a challenge! For an effective referral system to address the needs of young people who experience sexual violence, you need the engagement of the health sector, child protection sector, justice/legal sector, women and youth ministries, NGO and faith-based groups, local government, and others. You need to engage the finance/budgeting/planning sectors so there is funding. You need to engage communities—especially chiefs and traditional leadership—so that people are encouraged to report violations in the first place. However, increasingly, there are countries which have had great success in bringing together these sectors, so I am hopeful for the future.
You’ve been at JSI a long time—what was your path here?
I started with JSI’s partner, World Education, in 2004 backstopping various projects in southern Africa, including a school-based GBV initiative in three countries. I left and did some work in the Dominican Republic, and returned to the Boston office in 2006 when I joined JSI as part of the M&E group. I then moved to Indonesia to work with JSI’s Health Services Program, supporting maternal, child and newborn health and post-tsunami work throughout the country. Then I returned to Boston for a number of years to work with the Boston-based HIV team and now I am working remotely from Brooklyn, New York! So I have had the opportunity to see our work from a number of different perspectives, as well as learn about different technical areas.
What has kept you working at JSI for 10+ years?
I feel like I am always learning at JSI! The many times throughout my day that I learn from my colleagues, or from reading an article, researching a new country or public health intervention for a proposal, or from helping design a new tool—those experiences are really motivating to me.
I have the privilege to work with fantastic country teams, an extremely supportive supervisor and interesting and dedicated colleagues, a number of whom I count among my closest friends.
Do you have any hobbies?
I don’t have many hobbies these days—I spend my free time keeping up with my infant son and toddler daughter. And trying to catch up on sleep, if that counts as a hobby. We recently moved to Brooklyn, so exploring the area and trying to build a new community here is probably the predominant other activity in my life. I used to love documentary photography, and I hope that one day I will have time to get back to it!