The “Safe to learn” initiative published a collection of essays that examine and tackle the causes of different forms of violence in and around schools. This essay is authored by Dr. Daniela Ligiero, Executive Director & CEO of Together for Girls.
The author and fellow survivor, Christine MacDonald, wrote, “there is solace in breaking our silence, a strength of spirit that comes when we share our truth, and it all starts with the moment we make the decision to live on the other side of ‘victim’.”
Like most survivors of childhood sexual violence, I lived in shame and fear and felt very alone for a long time. It took many years for me to disclose my experiences to my parents. Once I was able to share what had happened with them, it set off a chain reaction that would change my life.
From that moment, I embarked on an amazing – and sometimes challenging – healing journey. I was fortunate to receive the support that all survivors deserve to undertake that journey.
Today, I’m the CEO and Executive Director of Together for Girls, a global partnership engaged in data-driven advocacy to influence evidence-based action on violence prevention and healing and justice for survivors. Data guides the way; the Together for Girls partnership supports national governments in implementing and using Violence Against Children and Youth Surveys (VACS) to inform national policies, programmes, and investments to prevent violence and support survivors.
The VACS are nationally representative household surveys of males and females aged 13 to 24 that measure physical, sexual, and emotional violence in childhood; providing important data on risk and protective factors and the consequences of violence. We now have data for over 10 percent of the world’s population under 24, and it paints an alarming picture. For example, among countries that have conducted a VACS, between 4 and 38 percent of girls and 1 and 21 percent of boys experience some form of sexual violence before the age of 18.
At Together for Girls, we’re particularly interested in exploring the relationship between violence and education. We know that schools are both a location of violence and a potential venue for transformative change to challenge the gender and social norms that drive violence. We also understand how important safe schools are for children’s rights, well-being, learning, and outcomes later in life.
We’ve conducted secondary analyses of VACS data to shed light on the prevalence of corporal punishment perpetrated by teachers against students, peer violence, and sexual violence perpetrated by teachers or students. We can also identify trends like higher rates of physical violence among male students. While patterns often emerge, there are important differences between country contexts.
For example, male teachers tend to perpetrate more corporal punishment against male students, yet VACS data in Nigeria shows a different trend, with 31 percent of female students reporting corporal punishment perpetrated by a male teacher, compared to 21 percent of male students. This contextual difference underscores the importance of data and evidence-based violence prevention policies and programmes.
Finally, we’re able to measure the likelihood that a survivor of school-related violence will disclose their experience to a trusted adult or peer and whether they will seek and receive services. In four countries that conducted a VACS, less than 1 percent to just 12 percent of students who experienced violence received services. As a survivor, I understand deeply how critical accessing quality services is for all survivors.
While this seems like common sense, especially to advocates and practitioners who work to prevent and address violence against children, there is a considerable gap between our understanding and the actions of governments and other key stakeholders.
I believe that one important reason governments and institutions continue to fail survivors is because conversations about violence so often fail to include survivors themselves. This is why Together for Girls has prioritized centering survivor voices and leadership and, in partnership with allies, is catalysing a global movement to end sexual violence against children.
We recognize that sexual violence is the most stigmatized form of violence that children experience and so we believe this is a critical entry point for addressing all forms of violence against children.
The Brave Movement is led by a global coalition of survivors and allies focused on prevention, healing, and justice for survivors. We represent a broad agenda and seek to target an array of decision-makers; from national governments to global audiences like the G7 and UN stakeholders to every citizen who has the power to speak out in support of children and survivors.
We are living through a tumultuous time and face serious interconnected challenges, from the silent pandemic of violence against women and children to climate change to conflicts that reap devastation on civilians. We all have a part to play in addressing these challenges.
For me, engaging in the work of Together for Girls and our partners and allies is a critical piece of a much bigger puzzle. As a survivor, I am keenly aware that investments in prevention, healing, and justice can change the lives of countless individuals and communities. By leveraging data and evidence to underscore the voices of survivors and the wisdom we have to share from our lived experiences, and with the partnership of allies, I believe we can create safer schools and communities and change the world for children, adolescents, and young people.
The “Safe to learn” essay contributors represent a range of voices and perspectives including global education leadership, government, teachers, youth, and civil society, all focused on ideas and solutions to end violence in and around schools.