Dr Janine Clark talks to students

A pioneering educational programme will help young people get involved in the fight against the social stigma that surrounds sexual violence in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH).

Dr Janine Natalya Clark, of the University of Birmingham, is working with the Tuzla-based women’s NGO Snaga Žene (Women’s Strength) to investigate and develop ways of creating a more socially supportive environment for male and female survivors of rape and sexual violence committed during the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH).

The 20-month research project is being funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

Dr Janine Natalya Clark, from Birmingham Law School, said: 'Widespread acts of rape and sexual violence occurred during the 1992-1995 BiH war. However, there has always been insufficient support for the men and women who suffered these crimes.

'Part of the problem is the fact that in BiH, as in so many societies, there is significant social stigma attached to rape and sexual violence. In short, they are a “taboo topic” that is rarely talked about publicly.

'Over the last two decades, there has been important transitional justice work carried out in BiH, primarily in the form of criminal trials. Yet, these efforts have failed to address the circumstance and beliefs that foster stigma and contribute to the marginalisation of survivors.

'This project seeks to address the problem head-on and identifies how education can help to positively change the views and attitudes of young people towards those who experience sexual violence.'

The first phase of the project saw the development and delivery in 2016 and 2017 of interactive talks on conflict-related rape and sexual violence in 21 different high schools across BiH.This work provided Dr Clark with an insight into young people’s views on sexual violence and the extent to which they embrace common rape myths.

Dr Clark is currently in BiH, to oversee the rollout of a training guide that she and a colleague at the University of Birmingham have written.

The guide provides high school teachers with important background information about the project, as well as lesson plans and classroom activities that will enable them to work with young people to encourage a wholesale change in how they perceive sexual violence and relate to those who have experienced it.

The training guide is being rolled out in collaboration with the Department of Education in Brčko District and consultation with high school teachers is now underway. The aim is that sex education classes will be piloted for a two-year period, starting in September (2018).

Dr Clark’s work in BiH saw her and Snaga Žene run interactive talks with more than 800 male and female students. The students – aged 17 and 18 – completed a pre- and post-talk questionnaire, and analysis of their responses revealed that the overwhelming majority found the sessions useful and would like more to be organised in the future.

Dr Clark added: 'Comparison of the results also showed that two important attitudinal shifts occurred as a result of the interactive sessions. Firstly, after the talks, a higher percentage of students strongly disagreed with two particular statements, namely ‘if a woman dresses provocatively and gets drunk, she is inviting men to rape her’ and ‘a real man would never allow himself to be raped’. Both statements are examples of rape myths that feed stigma.

'Secondly, following the talks, a higher percentage of students expressed feeling comfortable talking about the issue of sexual violence. By creating new spaces in high schools for young people to speak about rape and sexual violence, it is hoped that the project will contribute to fostering new social attitudes that are more supportive of survivors.'

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