Research in Anthropology has led to the development of survivor-led guidelines and a graphic novel that are being used by governments and organisations globally to follow ethical practices when recording testimonies of sexual violence.
Led by Professor Nayanika Mookherjee, the work has influenced policies and improved the well-being of survivors of sexual violence.
Recording testimonies ethically
Her work found that when recording survivors’ experiences of wartime rape, academics, journalists, human rights activists and government officials can flout ethical practices.
This can lead to survivors reliving the trauma of their experiences.
Professor Mookherjee has developed a set of pioneering guidelines to document survivors’ accounts ethically.
These include using informed consent, sensitivity, protection of survivors, anonymity, confidentiality and risk assessment.
Based on her research on public memories of sexual violence during the Bangladesh war of 1971, she found that it is important to consider the racial and historical contexts of sexual violence when recording the testimonies.
She further discovered that identifying raped women only through their suffering is not the correct approach and that the ideologies of stigma, honour and shame when mentioned in relation to survivors are not given categories and often have various socio-economic and politico-historical reasons for them to be practiced.
Professor Mookherjee emphasises that re-traumatisation can be avoided by focussing on the fragmented expressions and bodily experiences of survivors instead of sensational, voyeuristic and linear testimonies of sexual violence. Particular attention needs to be paid to how testimonies are recorded and written, how language and images are used in such processes.
Making an impact globally
The research has impacted on the women, peace and security narrative in Bangladesh and the guidelines have been used by the Prevent Sexual Violence Initiative team in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to develop the Murad Code – developed by Nadia Murad (the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner and Yazidi survivor) which is the international code of ethics for those recording testimonies of sexual violence among survivors. This was launched in the United Nations in April 2022.
The guidelines and graphic novel have also been used to train human rights defenders across Asia-Pacific and assisted media organisations in the production of their guidance to ensure that journalists deal with the collection of information properly and ethically.
Professor Mookherjee’s research has changed the perception of sexual violence survivors and made a positive impact on survivors’ welfare.
Picture - From the Graphic novel and animation film Mookherjee, Nayanika and Najmunnahar Keya. (2019) Birangona: Towards Ethical Testimonies of Sexual Violence during Conflict. University of Durham. [Online] Freely Available in Bangla & English https://www.ethical-testimonies-svc.org.uk/how-to-cite/