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Surviving rape in Kenya: Building psychological resilience by enabling sexual violence survivors to tell their stories


Project Description

In developing countries such as Kenya, sexual violence (SV) is grossly underreported; thus, systematic knowledge about the circumstances in which SV occurs and its mental health and well-being impacts is lacking. In 2014, 14% of Kenyan women aged 15-49 disclosed on a national health survey that they sustained SV at least once in their lifetime; however, few adult survivors report the crime to the police. For instance, only 10% of 4,000 survivors recently treated at the Gender Violence Recovery Centre at the Nairobi Women’s Hospital pursued criminal charges; all reported cases had child victims. Further, rape prosecution is based exclusively on medico-legal evidence (i.e., findings from medical examination). Survivors are given little opportunity to ‘tell their stories’ (i.e., give their account of the rape) to health providers or the police (see Figure 1). To address this gap, this PhD project will: 1) assess the impacts of rape and giving testimony on survivor mental health and well-being; and 2) conduct a randomised controlled trial to test MobApp, a method for comprehensively gathering and documenting survivor testimony as legal evidence in comparison with current methods used in Kenya.

The PhD is part of a larger project focused on using evidence-based methods for collecting testimony. The testimony of survivors is crucial in establishing the legal elements that determine criminal charges (FCO, 2017). The survivors’ testimony of the crime and its psycho-social impacts can inform appropriate charges and demonstrate the severity of the crime, leading to an increase in prosecutions (Ajema et al., 2009). Our team, including the Wangu Kanja Foundation’s SV Survivors Network in Kenya (Network, hereafter) and the UN Population Fund, is developing a mobile phone app (MobApp) that the Network will use to collect SV case data from individual survivors in all 46 counties in Kenya. The data being collected include the psycho-social impacts of SV and the survivor’s account of the crime and perpetrator.

Research and development on MobApp is critical because people who currently document cases (e.g., the Network, the police, healthcare providers) have no formal training or tools in evidence-based interviewing and there are no resources in Kenya at this time to rectify this. We are developing MobApp with stakeholders (e.g., the Government Equalities Commission, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, the Ministry of Health, members of the judiciary, health care providers) for maximum impact. MobApp uses scientifically proven techniques for eliciting comprehensive and reliable testimony that are widely accepted and used in legal systems around the world (e.g., UK, Australia, US). Research has found that these systematic evidence-based approaches preserve and protect the accuracy of testimonial evidence (e.g., Gabbert, Hope, & Fisher, 2012).

The PhD addresses the challenge of reducing gender inequality in the Global South through research that identifies the main political, medical, legal and economic challenges faced by women and girls. It connects directly with the UN Sustainable Development Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empowerment for women and girls. Institutionally, it supports activities within the University’s Institute for Global Innovation (IGI) Gender Inequalities theme, particularly the Sexual Violence work stream.

A prospective PhD candidate should have:
• A good knowledge of the eastern Africa (including Kenya),
• Be able to develop a novel perspective on and an understanding of challenges to rape reporting and prosecution in the region
• Applicants must meet the university’s academic PhD entry requirements in a relevant subject
• Hold a Masters degree in an area relevant to the project. Applicants should also demonstrate research potential.
• Non-native English speakers require an English language qualification equivalent to IELTS 6.5 with no element less than 6.0.
• Must be able to start their PhD on 1 October 2019.

Funding Notes

This project is part of the Global Challenges Scholarship.
The award comprises:

Full payment of tuition fees at UK Research Councils UK/EU fee level (£4,327 in 2019/20), to be paid by the University;
An annual tax-free doctoral stipend at UK Research Councils UK/EU rates (£15,009 for 2019/20), to be paid in monthly instalments to the Global Challenges scholar by the University;
The tenure of the award can be for up to 3.5 years (42 months).

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