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We Are All Connected

by Coleen Kivlahan, MD, MSPH on February 13, 2012

role-playing yarn exercise

Using a ball of yarn, training participants realize the complicated web of communication involved in bringing justice to each case. Photo: Karen Naimer, PHR.

PHR’s team just returned from a training session in the DRC, where they are working with international and local partners to hold perpetrators accountable for using rape as a weapon of war. This is the final in a series. Learn more about the project.

Day one of the training: A 12-year-old school girl walked home with a male friend from class. On the way home, he invited her into his house and she found herself alone with him there. She stated that he forced her to take off her dress and then violated her.

In our training, a policewoman who is role-playing the victim, holds onto the end of the multicolored yarn and throws the ball of yarn to her colleague, role-playing the victim’s mother. The mother holds the string and throws the ball of yarn to a colleague who is role-playing the nurse, who throws it to the role-playing doctor, who throws it to the role-playing police.

The participants in the exercise begin to buzz and acknowledge to each other that this is just the beginning of a complicated web of communication and that is exactly why their court system fails.

The mock police officer then throws the ball to the school teacher, who throws it to the girl’s father, who throws it to the lawyer, who throws it to the perpetrator, who throws it to his own doctor, who throws it to the judge.

Collecting evidence in a high-quality manner is limited, non-existent, or simply fails; scene investigation is absent; corruption occurs at multiple levels; the parents disagree about pursuing the case; confidentiality is broken; the school does not support the victim; and the survivor gets lost in the system, ultimately convinced that it was a mistake to report the rape in the first place.

Through this role-play exercise, we demonstrated the problems that are regularly manifested in the medical and legal systems. By the end, the training room and the participants are wrapped in a complex tangle of yarn.

Participants brimmed with animated comments about the system that regularly fails people. As we look around the room we realize that the system is us! However, by working together, as our training session has us doing, we can begin to simplify processes and procedures to increase the likelihood that impunity is reduced, justice is served, and victims remain at the center of our work.



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