'Survivors speak out' share panel with Foreign Secretary
Following a personal invitation from the Foreign Secretary, William Hague MP, Survivors Speak OUT network Coordinator, Kolbassia Haoussou, took his place this week alongside a panel of other expert speakers (including the Foreign Secretary himself), to highlight both the power in – and the difficulty for – survivors of sexual violence and other forms of torture to speak about their experiences.
The fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference was designed to raise awareness of sexual violence in conflict and to discuss a new Foreign & Commonwealth Office initiative, committing Britain's premiership as G8 chair next year to improving responses to these crimes. Following a compelling film of another SSO member, Ruth, speaking about her own experiences of sexual violence, Kolbassia offered the audience a unique, powerful and personal insight into the barriers to disclosure he experienced upon his arrival in the UK and his reasons for setting up SSO:
Our aim when we set up SSO was to speak for those survivors who were silenced – either by their external oppressors or by their own trauma. Today, we fight for the rights of survivors of sexual violence and other forms of torture worldwide and educate people on what it means to be a survivor of torture trying to live today in the UK."
Whilst acknowledging that the perpetrators of sexual violence and other forms of torture will only be held accountable for their crimes if the survivors of these acts speak out, and saluting the Foreign Secretary's push for more prosecutions and better evidence to support them, Kolbassia also carefully detailed the necessary safeguards such an initiative would have to put in place if it were to be successful.
What is needed is to build on the expertise of organisations like Freedom from Torture and their work with survivors of sexual violence, to develop practical ways to ensure survivors feel confident and safe to speak out. There is real danger of re-traumatisation and many police, lawyers, doctors and psychologists in the UK still have much to learn about when working sensitively with survivors."
As well as stressing the need for training, protection for those giving testimony, and greater gender, cultural and linguistic awareness and sensitivity, Kolbassia also called for legal reform and public education in those countries where rape often stigmatises the victim more than the perpetrator. Freedom from Torture CEO Keith Best was also present at the event and he echoed Kolbassia's sentiments, noting;
The Foreign Secretary deserves great credit for placing the rights of survivors at the heart of the UK's presidency of the G8 in 2013. But this commitment must extend beyond foreign policy. When survivors of torture, including sexual violence, seek sanctuary in the UK they experience disbelief and insensitivity from asylum decision-makers which compounds their trauma. Freedom from Torture strongly welcomes the Foreign Secretary's commitment to raise these issues with the Home Secretary. We hope he will be pushing at an open door."
You can read the full transcript of Kolbassia's speech below: