Around the world, 1 in 3 women experience either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. This means that violence against women (VAW) is happening everywhere and almost all the time. But this also means that almost anyone who deals with community members or the general public can be in a position to help or intervene on behalf of a victim or support a survivor.
You may think that VAW is not your problem, or that you’re not able to do anything because you don’t work in a job related to the issue, or that it doesn’t happen in your community. But VAW in its many forms is often subtle, often going unnoticed by outsiders, and so there are many subtle ways in which you can help. This UNICEF Bangladesh campaign about child marriage, for example, shows that anyone from children and strangers on a bus to fishmongers and community leaders can raise their voices and join hands against VAW.
This highlights just a few frontline professionals who are in positions to step up and prevent and intervene in cases of VAW. If you are in one of these public-facing jobs, you may come in contact with victims of domestic violence, rape, human trafficking, sexual harassment, female genital mutilation or other forms of abuse. Take the opportunity to learn about these forms of VAW and how to act, and try to be the voice that sparks an evolution in your community.
This starter list offers 16 actions you that you can take. While not all of the suggestions in this may be suitable for you, we hope that this will be a useful starting point.
Introduction by Anushia Kandasivam and Regina Yau; Researched and Written by Anushia Kandasivam.
Frontline Professional #1: Bar and Restaurant Staff
Types of VAW typically witnessed: rape, sexual assault/harassment
A little while ago, the Internet was abuzz with stories about bars that had ‘angel shots’ for their female patrons who needed to get away from a date gone wrong or were being harassed. Women often experience harassment in the form of unwanted attention, especially when alcohol is involved, and are vulnerable to assault, which can lead to rape.
Under such circumstances, sometimes the bar or restaurant staff are the only people a woman can turn to for assistance, or are the only people who are able to spot something is wrong. Staff should be watchful for such behaviour and be aware of women patrons who are uncomfortable or upset. Take advantage of training resources so you are able to recognise the signs of trouble.
- “How bar staff worldwide are being trained to prevent sexual violence” – The Globe and Mail
Frontline Professional #2: Bus/tram/train drivers & conductors
Types of VAW typically witnessed: sexual harassment/assault, street harassment, stalking
Women around the world are harassed in one way or another on public transport. Drivers, conductors and other public transport staff can certainly intervene and stop harassment but what’s more, they have the authority to remove the offender from the vehicle and enable the victim and other women to feel safe.
Recognising the problems faced by women on public transport, companies and governments around the world are initiating training programmes for drivers and other staff in recognising and stopping harassment. If no training is available to you, get together with your colleagues and ask for it. Use online resources to educate yourself and discuss ways to put official policies in place.
Frontline Professional #3: Flight and Cabin Crews
Types of VAW typically witnessed: human trafficking, forced marriage, female genital mutilation
Flight and cabin crew are very well-placed to identify and intervene in cases of human trafficking, forced marriage and even female genital mutilation – as the United Nations observes, flight attendants have the power to halt human trafficking because they are in the position to run direct interference on flights. Many of us would have read in 2017 about how a flight attendant rescued a girl from being trafficked and she is not the first to take a proactive stance against human trafficking. All cabin crew in the US must legally undergo training to identify human trafficking, and the training is working.
Because it does work, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the trade association for the world’s airlines, is actively lobbying governments and enforcement agencies to provide airline staff clear and safe ways to report human trafficking. The IATA also provides guidance and free online training to cabin crew (accessible to the public too) on human trafficking. If your employer does not provide training, take advantage of online resources to educate yourself and lobby your employer to provide more training.
Frontline Professional #4: Coaches and Trainers (Sports/Dance/Martial Arts)
Types of VAW typically witnessed: domestic violence, rape, sexual assault/harassment, female genital mutilation
Coaches and trainers spend lots of time with children, teens and adults while training, and they are uniquely placed to spot changes in their students’ physical and emotional states. Studies have shown that sport has the capacity to influence, inform and shape attitudes and behaviours in both positive ways and help to reduce health and gender inequalities in society.
Beyond that, coaches can also play a central role in creating safe and gender equal settings in which their students can thrive and take advantage of unique teaching moments to move forward conversations about VAW. For example, a dance teacher may teach about communicating and listening for consent in partnering, which can be transferred to other life situations.
Frontline Professional #5: Community or Religious Leaders and Registrars
Types of VAW typically witnessed: domestic violence, forced/child marriage, female genital mutilation
From the deluge of reports on child sexual abuse, the rape of nuns, and the Magdalene laundries that have plagued the Catholic Church to the cherry-picking use of the Quran by fundamentalist Muslims to justify child marriage, organised religion does not have a good reputation when it comes to VAW. However, the fact remains that community and religious leaders are able to influence local policy, awareness and attitudes towards VAW of all kinds. If you are a religious leader, recognise that you are perfectly placed to create a policy of zero-tolerance towards VAW – so take action and enable the community to set up safe places and support systems for victims and survivors.
Their non-religious counterparts such as registrars or community judges can intervene and even put a stop to VAW they come across in their line of work because they witness and record life events such as marriages, and so are in the front lines. As a community leader or registrar, if you suspect a bride is underaged, exercise your authority and ask for proof of her age. Be aware of the signs of forced marriage and know what to do when you encounter it.
- “Sexual Abuse, Harassment, and Assault: 14 Tips for Imams” – SoundVision
- “Sexual Abuse: 12 Resources For Church Leaders Committed to Preventing It – Missio Alliance
Frontline Professional #6: Event Planners, Management, and Staff
Types of VAW typically witnessed: Human trafficking, rape, sexual assault/harassment, stalking
Event planners and managers, and conference staff are the eyes and ears of the event but more than that, they have the ability to create from the very beginning a safe space and put in place safeguards to prevent VAW or make intervention and reporting easy.
Take an example from large and established conventions such as the World Con, an annual science fiction and fantasy convention that has in place comprehensive codes of conduct that all participants are expected to adhere to. Besides having dedicated security officials, make enforcement of these rules community-based so that everyone gets involved in making the space safe. Be aware of what harassment looks like, have internal policies and further measures in place for reporting and train your staff to recognising harassment and report it.
Frontline Professional #7: Beauty Industry Professionals
Types of VAW typically witnessed: domestic/intimate partner violence, rape, sexual assault/harassment, stalking
Hairdressers and beauticians have a unique relationship with their clients. Regular clients often chat about their daily lives and experiences and see their hairdresser or beautician as a trusted ally. This is why they are able to identify when something is wrong – either through subtle cues in their clients’ stories that they are experiencing some form of violence or outright sharing.
In the US, certain state laws have recognised this unique relationship and made it mandatory for hairdressers to undergo regular training to spot signs of VAW and be armed with resources that they can share with their clients. The success of these training programmes in the US and Canada has led to them being offered in Australia and the UK.
As a trusted professional and ally, you can lend your support to clients who are facing violence by listening, believing, providing a safe space for your client where she can ‘get away’ for a few hours, and most importantly, educating yourself on what to do and what resources can help her.
Frontline Professional #8: Healthcare Professionals
Types of VAW typically witnessed: domestic/intimate partner violence and female genital mutilation.
Doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals are extremely well-placed to spot women and girls facing VAW. Studies have found that female nurses in particular are seen as trusted allies in a ‘caring’ profession by women who often have nobody else to turn to for help.
Many national healthcare policies around the world include training for professionals in identifying, treating and counselling women who are experiencing violence because governments also realise the important role these professionals can play in intervention, prevention and treatment.
There are also online resources for healthcare professionals on how to assess the health and demeanour of a woman you suspect is facing violence and how to respond: with belief, validation of her disclosure, and assistance through assessing her safety and the safety of her children.
Frontline Professional #9: Hotel Staff
Types of VAW typically witnessed: domestic/intimate partner violence, human trafficking, rape, sexual assault/harassment, stalking.
All hotel staff, whether you are part of the cleaning team, a front desk manager, bartender or engineer, can be the eyes and ears of the hotel and keep a look out for signs of VAW. Besides noticing intimate partner violence or sexual assault, you should also be aware that hotels are often used as meeting places or pit stops by human traffickers.
Several international hotel companies have already started training their staff to recognise the signs of VAW, from the obvious – physical signs of assault – to the subtle – a person who cannot speak freely, does not make eye contact or does not seem to belong to the party they arrive with.
Take advantage of this type of training if offered by your employer, and if not offered, ask for it. Meanwhile, make yourself aware of the signs of human trafficking and what to do when you suspect it.
- ECPAT-USA (Child Trafficking Travel Indicators)
Frontline Professional #10: Immigration and Border Control Officers
Types of VAW typically witnessed: human trafficking, forced marriage, and female genital mutilation
Forced marriage (which can be considered a form of human trafficking) and female genital mutilation (FGM) can happen in any country, but in countries where it is illegal or practitioners are rare, families often travel to other countries to marry off their underage daughters or have the FGM procedure performed on them. This is where immigration officers and airport staff are able to intervene on behalf of girls and women who pass through their airports.
Many border forces around the world undergo training to spot the signs of human trafficking, girls in danger of FGM and women and girls facing forced marriages, and have the authority to stop travel and thus stop the violence. As an immigration officer or airport staff member, you should learn how to identify these forms of VAW and what to do if you suspect something is wrong.
Frontline Professional #11: Journalists
Types of VAW typically witnessed: rape, sexual assault/harassment, street harassment, stalking, child marriage, female genital mutilation
Journalists have a unique role in the fight to stop VAW – they play the long game to bring about change in behaviours, beliefs and communities. Journalists are able to expose systematic VAW in communities, spark conversations and discussion about VAW and even influence policy on the matter. Journalists and newspapers have played pivotal roles in exposing sexual misconduct in the Catholic church, the financial sectors, film industries and other institutions.
There are so many ways in which journalists can take action but some of the more important are to keep in mind the bigger picture when you are reporting – add in evidence of systematic VAW in the community and facts about the long-term effects of gender violence on communities and the economy. Educate your readers by avoiding myths and stereotypes in your reporting and providing links to resources in your articles. And keep fighting the good fight – insist with your editor that these issues must be covered and uncovered for there to be change.
- “16 Tips For Journalists Reporting On Violence Against Women” – The Pixel Project
- Queensland Government’s Media Guide to reporting Domestic and Family Violence
Frontline Professional #12: Entertainment Industry Professionals
Types of VAW typically witnessed: human trafficking, rape, sexual assault/harassment
You may not think that performers or entertainers are in a position to spot VAW or help women and girls in danger, but they are. When not in the spotlight, performers move through the back corridors and rooms just as venue and hotel staff do. On top of that, seasoned performers and entertainers know how to navigate and deal with the sometimes inappropriate behaviour of managers and clients.
Though you may be concentrating on your performance and set, as a professional you could still be aware of what goes on backstage and how you can intervene or help. Know the signs of human trafficking and what to do if you spot someone who may be in danger. You can be a responsible bystander if you see someone being harassed. Or, if you are a seasoned professional, keep an eye on less experienced colleagues who may not know how to deal with lewd and sexist remarks or harassment from managers, and step in when necessary.
- ECPAT-USA (Child Trafficking Travel Indicators)
Frontline Professional #13: Photographers
Types of VAW typically witnessed: domestic/intimate partner violence, forced/child marriage
In 1991, photographer Donna Ferrato published a book called Living With the Enemy that showcased photos she had taken of victims, survivors and incidences of domestic violence. Her work helped to bring VAW into the light and influenced national policy in the US. Recently in 2018, Turkish photographer Onur Albayrak stepped in to stop a man from marrying a 15-year-old girl.
Learn to recognise the signs of abuse, and trust your instincts as a professional photographer – if you feel that there is something not right about the interaction between a couple or the bruises on a client, for example; you might be right. If it is safe, discreetly ask if you can help, or just create a space where the woman feels safe and free, even if it is for a little while as you take her photograph – a little bit of support and relief can go a long way.
Frontline Professional #14: Teachers
Types of VAW typically witnessed: domestic violence, intimate partner violence, female genital mutilation, forced marriage
Teachers of every level from kindergarten to the final year of high school are well-placed to play a pivotal role in identifying and responding to domestic violence since they have contact with children more than any other service.
Besides domestic violence (when the child’s mother is facing violence from her partner), teachers are also able to identify and lend support to students who are themselves facing intimate partner violence, female genital mutilation, forced marriage and other forms of gender-based violence.
As a teacher, besides being aware of the signs that your female students may exhibit if they are facing violence, you can also take the opportunity to teach about violence and appropriate behaviours, especially to young people so that they themselves understand why these kinds of violence takes place and how they can prevent them and break the cycle.
Frontline Professional #15: Truckers
Types of VAW typically witnessed: human trafficking, sexual harassment, street harassment
Truckers may not be the first people you think of when it comes to preventing or intervening in incidences of VAW. Truckers, or long-haul lorry drivers, depending on where you are in the world, are the perfect people to help stop pervasive forms of VAW such as street harassment, just by being role models in the way they interact with women on their travels and by educating their peers about treating women with respect.
Truckers also play a huge role in fighting human trafficking because they are in fact the eyes and ears of the highways and byways. Many anti-trafficking non-profits and truckers themselves have recognised this and have created resources of information and training on human trafficking – how to recognise it and what to do when you encounter it.
Frontline Professional #16: Wedding Industry Professionals
Types of VAW typically witnessed: forced marriage, human trafficking, domestic violence
It is easy to think of forced marriage happening in remote places behind closed doors but the reality is that many times it happens out in the open, and because the victims believe they have no choice but to go through with it, nothing is said. In these cases, the wedding industry professional can be the one to spot a problem – a bride that seems unhappy about getting married, does not or is not allowed to give her opinion on the wedding, or seems too young to get married – and can intervene.
Forced marriage and child marriage happens all over the world. If you know that you live in a community or culture where it is prevalent, as a wedding industry professional you can step up by questioning her family and asking for proof of her age, and, if it is safe, letting the bride know that she can confide in you if she does not want to get married.
There are various resources on recognising forced marriage and appropriate action to take. Be aware of the child marriage laws in your country and the legal age for marriage. As a professional directly involved in the business of weddings, you are able not only to intervene when you see something happening but also take a stand by raising awareness among your colleagues and community.
All pictures used are Creative Commons images (from top to bottom):
- Picture 1: Photo by Pixabay.com from Pexels
- Picture 2: Photo by mentatdgt from Pexels
- Picture 3: Photo by Sabel Blanci from Pexels
- Picture 4: Asad Photo Maldives from Pexels
- Picture 5: Dzenina Lukac from Pexels
- Picture 6: Photo by Pixabay.com from Pexels