Mental health and gender-based violence Helping survivors of sexual violence in conflict – a training manual

his training material has been written for the many individuals who provide assistance and support to women who survive gender-based violence (GBV) and sexual trauma during disasters, wars and conflicts. We hope it may be helpful as well to those who work with gender-based violence in other settings.
A number of manuals and guidelines address different and important aspects of GBV, including its prevention, the education of men and boys, and GBV in emergency settings. An overview of the most important contributions to this field can be found on page 2 (GBV in a wider context). The goal of this manual is to fill a gap by providing more information on the effects of GBV on mental health, and how to use this knowledge when engaging with survivors of GBV. Our hope is that the training will guide and assist helpers in the important work they do. In particular, we hope it will help trainers to identify and understand reactions to trauma, and deal with the different immediate and long term responses that women display after they experience traumatic events.
This training has been developed for use in situations where helpers have limited or no access to specialised health services, and where humanitarian workers must deal with severe human loss, sorrow and distress in the midst of insecurity, conflict and war.
This manual can be used in different ways. It may supplement and deepen the understanding of those who already have experience and expertise. Its first purpose, however, is to train helpers to work with and understand trauma. We hope it will provide a reliable tool for helpers who teach other helpers and for groups of helpers who need self-study materials. The manual can be read, studied and discussed, and the exercises it contains can be tested and applied in group work and study.
The manual explores the psychological meaning of trauma and how traumatic events affect mental health. What are the signs of severe stress? How can these be assessed and understood? How does a helper approach a very distressed woman shortly after she has been through dreadful and violent experiences? How can we create safe spaces that permit supportive dialogues and forms of contact that can help survivors to recover and heal?
Respect is a key value. Willingness to help and listen, allow survivors to control their own stories, and respect their self-determination, are important values that shape the way survivors should be approached. In addition, a helper needs to know how to manage closeness and distance, how to give positive support, and how to tolerate silence. The manual includes elements of theory (especially in Part III) but focuses on practical training techniques that directly assist survivors. We hope it gives helpers tools they can use to assist survivors of GBV to rebuild their lives and regain their sense of dignity.

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