Supporting Survivors of Violence: The Role of Linguistic and Cultural Mediators, with a Focus on Gender-Based Violence and Sexual Violence against Men and Boys - A Training Curriculum

Manual and Guideline
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1. Introduction

Refugees and migrants around the world face serious risks of violence, including sexual violence, exploitation and abuse. For many, the threat or reality of violence may be the tipping point that drives them from their home countries. But they often find that violence accompanies them throughout their perilous journeys and continues to blight their lives on arrival as they try to carve out a new life. This is particularly true for women and girls whose migration experience is often characterized by gender-based violence (GBV). Men and boys are also targeted for violence including sexual violence. And for young adults, adolescents and children – particularly those travelling alone – the dangers are severe.

Despite extensive exposure to GBV and sexual violence along migration routes, survivors who arrive in Europe face a variety of barriers that prevent them from accessing appropriate care. These barriers include xenophobia and racism, under-trained staff, poor referral networks and language barriers. To overcome the language barrier, humanitarians rely on linguistic and cultural mediators (LCMs) and interpreters who can speak with the survivors. However, they are rarely equipped with the tools and knowledge to provide effective support and referrals for survivors of violence. Given their connections to refugee and migrant communities, LCMs are well-placed to support those who have been through difficult and often traumatic experiences. However, few have been trained to do so.

That is why the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC) and UNICEF developed this training curriculum, which aims to equip this vital group of humanitarian workers with the foundational knowledge they need to respond effectively to and support survivors of GBV and sexual violence – including male survivors (see section 2.2). While the training focuses on LCMs, it is also useful and relevant for interpreters who work in the context of service provision for refugees and migrants. The training aims to:

  • raise awareness among LCMs about GBV against women and girls and sexual violence against men and boys (SVAMB)

  • explain the principles for the provision of survivor-centred services, including the importance of the GBV guiding principles: confidentiality, safety, respect and non-discrimination

  • promote self-reflection to understand and, where necessary, address personal values, attitudes and beliefs around GBV and SVAMB

  • clarify the roles and responsibilities of LCMs in the context of service provision and the provision of support to survivors

  • explain how LCMs should handle disclosures of violence, provide psychological first aid (PFA) and refer survivors to services

  • share self-care practices to help minimize the impact of stress on LCMs, including potential vicarious traumatization, and promote well-being among LCMs.

The curriculum was developed for the European context, which differs from other refugee contexts in some important respects. While women and girls make up around half of most refugee populations worldwide, more than 85 per cent of refugees and migrants who have entered Italy via the central Mediterranean route since 2016 have been men and boys. Nearly two-thirds of children arriving in Europe through the various Mediterranean routes in 2018 and 2019 were boys; boys also represent a high percentage of those who arrive unaccompanied by or separated from their families. It should also be noted that unaccompanied and separated girls, because of the specific ways in which they travel, are not always identified and may, therefore, be poorly represented in official statistics.

As such, this training curriculum provides special consideration for male survivors. It also addresses GBV against women and girls, who require specialized GBV services to support their recovery.