Friday, December 24, 2010

Working Group on Media Protocols on Sexual Gender-Based Violence in Haiti Launched in Support of UN Campaign to Eliminate Violence against Women

Reporting on Sexual Violence in Haiti Requires new Guidelines

Working Group on Media Protocols on Sexual Gender-Based Violence in Haiti Launched in Support of UN Campaign to Eliminate Violence against Women

(December 16, 2010—PORT-AU-PRINCE)—A consortium of leading women’s, children’s and human rights advocates, health organizations, representatives of the media, and experts on gender-based violence have come together to form the “Working Group on Media Protocols on Sexual Gender Based Violence in Haiti.” The group will develop and recommend protocols for media coverage of sexual gender based violence against women and girls in Haiti. The group formally launched their mission this month in support of the UN’s “16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign.”

Throughout the year, members of the group have worked with Haitian NGOs and earthquake survivors in various capacities, including providing aid and documenting the increasing incidences of rape and sexual violence since the January 2010 earthquake left more than 1.5 million people stranded in roughly 1,300 camps. Other members have provided advocacy on behalf of rape survivors and lobbied for their protection, shelter, food, and access to emergency medical care. All of this work has highlighted the common need for clear and consistent protocols on media coverage, so that victims of sexual violence are not again exploited and placed in further jeopardy by news reports on their cases.

“The continuing rise in sexual violence in Haiti has resulted in increased media coverage of the issue, as well as focus on those who have been victimized,” says group co-founder Michelle Karshan. “Media coverage is essential to focus attention on the issue, sensitize readers and to instill action.” However, the media faces many unique challenges when covering sexual gender based violence. “Often, journalists find themselves balancing the need to produce an engaging story while wanting to avoid exposing victims to additional or future risks and retaliation,” explains Karshan, who has been a social justice advocate for Haiti for 26 years. Karshan is currently the executive director of “Li, Li, Li! Read,” a psychosocial, literacy program for children in Haiti’s makeshift tent camps.

The working group concept began as a conversation between Karshan and attorney Jayne Fleming, who leads the Human Rights team at Reed Smith LLP. Fleming and Reed Smith are involved in a unique initiative in Haiti to identify and represent candidates for emergency Humanitarian Parole to the U.S. Fleming leads delegations of legal and medical experts to Haiti to identify candidates for Parole, provide advocacy for survivors, and document testimony from victims of sexual gender based violence.

Karshan, Fleming and other members of the working group frequently provide commentary and background information to media on the realities of the sexual violence epidemic in Haiti. Over the last year, they have helped journalists working in Haiti address and resolve such considerations as confidentiality, identifying victims and locations, obtaining proper consent, protecting the rights of minors, and what images are appropriate to share.

Members of the working group are currently researching existing guidelines and frameworks covering sexual gender based violence contained in government, press, legal, health, and human rights standards. They are also conducting focus groups with editors, news directors, journalists and other members of the media; meeting with women’s and children’s rights groups; seeking input from other participating international and state organizations, and are seeking to work with the Haitian government in developing and implementing these protocols as a step towards stemming the tide of sexual violence, and ensuring the rights of Haitian women and children survivors.

Another area that the Working Group on Media Protocols on Sexual Gender-Based Violence in Haiti will focus on is how new media is fast changing the rules for what is considered ethical reporting of sexual violence.

“Because of the rapid increase in mobile technology—including live Twitter feeds or Facebook coverage, as well as online radio and TV stations, and rapid translation capabilities—the majority of news coverage on Haiti is now shared almost instantly inside Haiti, regardless of where it originates,” said Sergio Garcia, Chair of Reed Smith’s Technology Transactions Team, who is helping to spearhead the project. “In our experience, this fairly recent development makes our mission all the more critical and timely, especially as it relates to protecting the rights and safety of Haitian victims of sexual violence.”

Members of the working group include a broad spectrum of affected sectors, including:

o Journalists, Photographers, and Authors: such as Claude Adams, Jennifer Cheek Pantaléon, Beverly Bell, Patrick Douge, Miriam Neptune and representatives of the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

o Women and Gender-Based Violence (GBV): including noted attorneys Elizabeth Barad, Esq. and Lisa Davis, Esq.; activist Melinda Miles; and Karen Musalo, Esq., director of the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies (CGRS) at UC Hastings College of Law. GBV organizations in support of the working group include CGRS, Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees, MADRE, FAVILEK, and KOFAVIV—Commission of Women Victims for Victims.

o Justice and Human Rights: including representatives of the Lawyers’ Earthquake Response Network (LERN), Haiti Emergency Relief Fund, Haiti Justice Alliance, Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights for the San Francisco Bay Area, and the Let Haiti Live/project of TransAfrica. Other members in this sector include Mario Joseph, Esq., director of Bureau des Avocats Internationaux; Privat Precil, the former Director General of Haiti’s Ministry of Justice; Bill Quigley, Legal Director for the Center for Constitutional Rights; human rights attorney Moira Duvernay; and Professor Mark Schuller, Professor of African American Studies & Anthropology at York College, CUNY and Holly Cooper, Esq. of the UC Davis Immigration Law Clinic.

o Children’s Program: such as Zanmi Lakay, and Li, Li, Li! Read.

o Medical and Mental Health: including the Stanford University School of Medicine, along with Dr. Daryn Reicherter and Dr. Victor Carrion, co-directors of the Stanford University International Initiative's working group on Orphans and Vulnerable Children.

For further information on this release, please contact:

Jamie Moss
newsPRos, PR Counsel, Reed Smith LLP
(201) 493-1027

For further information on becoming directly involved in the Haiti Working Group on Media & Sexual Gender-Based Violence, please contact:

Michelle Karshan
(212) 613-6033


Sergio Garcia
(415) 659-4748