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Documentation of survivors of gender-based violence (GBV)

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By Iffat Idris

1. Summary

Documentation of gender-based violence (GBV) cases is important in allowing survivors to access support services and secure justice, and – on a wider scale – for analysis and improvement in GBV responses. GBV documentation carries significant risks for survivors and others, and hence must be taken with care. Key principles include: do no harm, take a survivor-centred approach, ensure non-discrimination and confidentiality, and protect data. The GBV Information Management System (GBVIMS) provides a standardised tool for collecting, analysing and sharing GBV data, and is being implemented in a growing number of developing countries in humanitarian settings. Remote service delivery (phone-based case management, hotlines) pose additional challenges, and require tailored measures to ensure confidentiality and data protection.

This review is largely based on grey literature, in particular policy documents and reports by international development organizations. While there was substantial literature on approaches and principles to GBV documentation, there was less on remote service delivery such as helplines – much of this only in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, very little was found on actual examples of GBV documentation in developing contexts. By definition, gender featured strongly in the available literature; the particular needs of persons with disabilities were also addressed in discussions of overall GBV responses, but far less in GBV documentation.

Key findings of the review are as follows:

  • GBV documentation refers to the recording of data on individual GBV incidents in order to provide/refer survivors with/to appropriate support, and the collection of data of GBV incidents for analysis and to improve GBV responses. There are two main sources of quantitative data: administrative sources, and population-based prevalence surveys. This review only looks at the former.

  • There are significant risks associated with GBV documentation, in relation to data protection. Failure to ensure information security can expose survivors, in particular, to harm, e.g. reprisal attacks by perpetrators, stigma and ostracism by their families/communities. This means that GBV documentation must be carried out with great care.

  • A number of principles should always be applied when documenting GBV cases in order to protect survivors and prevent potential negative effects:

    • Do no harm – being aware of the risks involved, and putting in place measures to prevent/minimize harm.
    • Survivor-centred approach – putting the survivor at the centre of each step of the response process, and making decisions based on the survivor’s needs, wishes and capacities.
    • Survivor autonomy – enabling and respecting the survivor’s right to make his/her own decisions.
    • Informed consent – ensuring that a survivor agrees to participate on the basis of: their having full information, including of risks and benefits; them being competent to decide; and no coercion, threats or promises of benefits being used to secure that consent.
    • Non-discrimination – GBV survivors receive equal and fair treatment regardless of their age, gender, race, religion, nationality, ethnicity, sexual orientation or any other characteristic.
    • Confidentiality – not disclosing any information at any time to any party without the informed consent of the GBV survivor. Confidentiality promotes safety, trust and empowerment. Survivors should also be informed of any exceptions to confidentiality.
    • Data protection (information security) – putting in place measures to keep data secure, e.g. never sharing survivor’s personal details, anonymising data, using passwords for information stored electronically.
  • The GBV Information Management System (GBVIMS) is a data management system that enables those providing services to GBV survivors to effectively and safely collect, store, analyse and share data related to the reported incidents of GBV. It comprises four tools: GBV Classification Tool (which has six core types of GBV); Intake and Consent Forms; Incident Recorder; and Information Sharing Protocol Template. GBVIMS is being used by international and local agencies in a growing number of developing countries. The Primero/GBVIMS+ is a more recent software system which has technological enhancements including heightened security, role-based access and viewing rights.

  • Remote GBV service delivery operates over a technology platform (i.e. hotline, chat, or SMS) rather than in person. Two main methods are phone-based case management and by calling hotlines. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to increased use of such remote service delivery, with often both survivors and practitioners at home. These carry additional ethical and security risks which can lead to breaches of confidentiality and privacy, and expose survivors to harm, e.g. others listening in to phone calls, or accessing SMS messages.

  • Recommendations to ensure security in remote GBV service delivery include: using only electronic data and not keeping hard copies of GBV case files in practitioners’ homes; no call back policy on hotlines; establishing codes/red flag phrases; having different access rights to data for staff, depending on need; following data protection protocols; and including undertakings on data protection in staff contracts.

Read the full report here.