UNICEF Field Trip Part 3: Through the Looking Glass

05 Nov 2012|Marina Cozzika

It is nice when you discover that all the effort you bring to fundraising actually makes a difference to people’s life.

This is what we found out on our Bolivian field trip, when we discovered that the kind of facility room used almost daily across market research companies was used to create a protective environment for children who are victims of violence1 and that the one we visited in La Paz had been funded by Kantar’s Brighter Futures (link to website).

At Kantar group, we use one-way mirrors dividing two rooms for qualitative market research Focus Groups, allowing our clients to watch without being seen. But those rooms have other purposes as well.

Called ‘Gessell chamber’ in this context, it is a place where the child will feel safe and free to talk about the suffering endured. His testimony will be recorded so that he will not have to tell his story in front of the Court, sometimes up to twelve times and confront his aggressor again. Named ‘Gessel’ after an American psychologist and pediatrician, they are used by the Victims and Witness Support Unit2 of the National General Attorney’s.

Of course, we met no children while we visited the room with the mirror, but their presence was felt everywhere through the colorful room, toys, books on shelf… One poignant detail brought us back to the purpose of this room with the presence of two small dolls, one male, one female, with very detailed genitals, that are shown to children for them to indicate where the adults have touched them inappropriately. We could see also in this room through the one-way mirror and a small TV linked to a camera and a recording device used when a child is testifying.

Later that same day, we discovered how abused children were helped by the social workers. We had a very emotional encounter with Elena (name changed to preserve her privacy) a 17 year old girl, at the Therapeutic Support Centre3 (CAT). She had been sexually abused by someone she thought her friend and she felt ashamed towards her parents as well as depressed. She came to the centre to rediscover her self-esteem and confidence. Elena had 29 psychological treatment sessions with social workers to rebuild herself. Interestingly, the mirror was also used by the social workers, but this time in the context of therapy to regain self-esteem. By liking what she saw, Elena was feeling confident again. Her father was present as she recounted her story to us, to support her and to give us a bit of background as to what the legal system in Bolivia was like for a victim. Needless to say that it was a difficult path to walk with the corruption of the police asking for money from the victim to investigate. Father and daughter had only praise for the work done by CAT and UNICEF to help them. We were moved by Elena’s courage and impressed that after all her sessions at CAT, she felt strong enough and had volunteered to share her story. She is now a very successful 1st year student at the University and wants to become a psychologist to help children sexually abused.
It was amazing to see the dedication of the social workers and UNICEF to prevent violence in Bolivia and to help the victims. From 2008, they have been helping approximately 7000 children and adults and created a protective environment for them with places like the Gessel chamber.

1- About Violence in Bolivia
Violence against children is a huge social problem faced by the Bolivian society as according to research carried out by UNICEF, approximately 83% of children are suffering from violence at home through corporal punishment often applied as a form of discipline by their fathers, mothers and caregivers. UNICEF Bolivia works to promote the culture of “good treatment” of children with the use of methodologies and training kits developed. In recent years, it is carrying out projects for children victim of crime, especially sexual violence and has presented a legislation to declare the year 2012 ‘No violence against children’ that was approved by the Assembly and signed by the President of Bolivia.

2- About Victims and Witness Support Unit
Since 2008, UNICEF has been supporting them with technical and financial assistance for the application of child rights in light of the United Nations Guideline on Justice Matters involving Child Victims and Witness of Crime. In 2010, a ministerial resolution was passed to allow the use of the Gessel chamber. Currently, there are 10 Victims and Witness Support Unit in Bolivia, and 5 of them are using Gessel chambers.

3- About Therapeutic Support Centre (CAT)
The Therapeutic Support Centre (CAT) is the public institution run by the Department of Social Services which provides psychological treatment and support to children victim of

sexual crimes and to their family. UNICEF provides technical and financial assistance and currently there are 4 CATs all over Bolivia equipped with a Gessell chamber.
Written by Marina Cozzika, Public Relations Added Value France

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