Ashleigh Howard is a global health epidemiologist with expertise in violence and HIV. She began her work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Zimbabwe country office in 2011 focusing on issues of violence and gender.
Throughout her career, Ashleigh has worked closely with the Violence Against Children and Youth Surveys (VACS). These are nationally representative household surveys of males and females designed to measure the prevalence, past 12-month incidence, and circumstances surrounding sexual, physical, and emotional violence in childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood.
Here Ashleigh shares her top 10 things you should know about the Violence Against Children and Youth Surveys.
Collectively, the VACS have data for more than 10 per cent of the world’s youth (aged 13-24) in more than 20 countries and growing.
A unique aspect of the survey’s methodology is that when a country elects to do a VACS, households from across the country are surveyed and anyone aged 13-24 has a chance of being selected to participate. This process means the survey is nationally representative of the experiences related to violence facing children and young people within the country.
The most recent VACS funded by the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in Sub-Saharan Africa, including Botswana, Zimbabwe, Côte d’Ivoire, Lesotho, Kenya, Namibia, and Mozambique now include updated questions related to violence, sexual risks, and HIV testing. These will greatly improve understanding of the links between experiencing violence and HIV.
VACS interviewers are trained to support and refer individuals who disclose recent violence or exploitation, are in danger, and ask for help with violence-related issues to appropriate services.
Data collection teams work with a response plan coordinator to link participants who are seeking services to a social worker who can then connect them to ongoing services within their communities. In past surveys, services provided have included medical care for injuries, HIV testing and counseling, psychosocial counseling, and reunification of exploited youth with their families.
The most critical safeguard for VACS interviewers is protecting the confidentiality of study participants. Because perpetrators may retaliate against individuals who disclose violence, VACS takes measures to ensure no one else in the community is aware that the survey is about violence or can overhear participants’ responses to the survey. Additionally, VACS does not collect personally identifiable information and only presents group data.
Data collection staff are often surprised at the willingness and strength of study participants to share extremely difficult experiences they have faced. Interviewers have been encouraged by study participants who have expressed relief in disclosing sensitive experiences in hopes that their story will help to improve the situation for children in their country.
It can also be an empowering experience for interviewers to offer response services to participants, many of whom never knew assistance was available.
To encourage widespread use of VACS data, survey datasets are made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (generally one year after the survey is complete), with permission of the respective country governments.
These datasets provide an excellent opportunity for universities and independent researchers to conduct ongoing analyses of the rich, detailed data and help increase our understanding of and ability to prevent and respond to the pandemic of violence against children.
Each country’s approach to addressing violence is different. A helpful tool that guides countries and programs toward evidence-based interventions and action plans is the INSPIRE framework, which provides seven strategies with the greatest potential to reduce violence against children.
For example, in Uganda, VACS data indicated high levels of harmful gender norms leading to violence between young children. Using the INSPIRE framework, country-level partners decided to focus on implementing community-level programs for youth throughout the country, specifically targeting areas with the highest levels of sexual violence against girls. Partner organizations also engaged with boys’ sports teams through Futures Without Violence mentoring program, “Coaching Boys into Men,” to teach boys to challenge harmful gender attitudes, reduce violence perpetration and intervene when they see violence happening.
Subsequent VACS can both update current estimates as well as provide information for a country’s understanding of the epidemic of violence over time. To date, two VACS countries, Kenya and Zimbabwe, have conducted follow up surveys which explore estimates of violence in areas with high HIV prevalence.
The VACS country report is only the beginning of addressing the greater problem of violence against children.
The country of Nigeria is one of many governments which has continued to use VACS data to move forward in addressing the issue of violence against children over time. Following dissemination of its country report in 2014, the Nigerian government launched a Year of Action to End Violence Against Children, including state-level priorities. This was followed by a Roadmap to End Violence Against Children and Pathfinding status with the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children. Nigeria has continued to demonstrate its commitment to responding to and using the VACS findings, including most recently in the publication of a 2019 report on The economic burden of violence against children.
The VACS is a powerful tool to help countries take evidence-based actions that help prevent and respond to violence against children.
Learn more about the Together for Girls partnership and the Violence Against Children and Youth Surveys (VACS).
This resource provides evidence that VACS data and associated processes contribute to meaningful policy change and action to end violence against children and adolescents and gender-based violence.
An overview of data found in Mozambique's Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS) report.
Explore the data in Mozambique's Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS) report.
Data on school-related gender-based violence in Namibia.
Explore the results from a secondary analysis of VACS data by Together for Girls, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Global Affairs Canada.
This brief explores the results of the 2019 the Violence Against Children and Youth Survey, which found that both boys and girls experience unacceptably high rates of emotional, physical, and sexual violence in Namibia.
In 2019, the government of the Republic of Namibia completed a nationally-representative Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS) interviewing 5,191 children and youth (13-24 years old) about their experiences of physical, sexual, and emotional violence.
Data on school-related gender-based violence in Uganda.
This study specifically investigates the role of fathers and whether paternal violence victimization is associated with peer violence perpetration, above and beyond maternal violence victimization.
Explore the research and findings from the Uganda Violence Against Children and Youth Survey.
Linking Violence Against Children and Youth Surveys to Coordinated and Effective Action: CDC and the Together for Girls Partnership is intended to serve as a guide for countries and Together for Girls partners interested in undertaking VACS and supporting data-informed actions to address the burden and consequences of violence against children and youth.
Data on school-related gender-based violence in Kenya.
Data on school-related gender-based violence in Côte d'Ivoire.
Data on school-related gender-based violence in Mozambique.
Data on school-related gender-based violence in Zimbabwe.
This study provides comprehensive evidence on the negative effects of physical, sexual, and emotional violence on children’s well-being and educational outcomes in Northern Nigeria.
This study explores the rarely studied prevalence and dynamics around disclosure, reporting, and help seeking behaviours of children who ever experienced physical and/or sexual violence.
This article examines the outcomes associated with early sexual debut in five sub-Saharan African countries for males and females, separately.
An overview of the data found in Kenya's 2020 Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS) report.
This country fact sheet provides an overview of the data found in Côte d'Ivoire's VACS report
Explore the data in Kenya's Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS) report.
The Kenyan government has developed a national prevention and response plan (2019-2023) that aims to reduce violence against children prevalence by 40 percent.
This booklet will give you the tools you need to help SPOT and STOP violence in your home, school and community! You’ll learn the different ways that kids experience violence, and what they, their families, communities, and YOU can do.
Data on school-related gender-based violence in Nigeria.
Explore the data in Côte d'Ivoire's Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS) report.
Explore the data in Botswana's Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS) report.
Explore the data in Zimbabwe's Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS) report.
An overview of the data found in Zimbabwe's 2019 Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS) report.
Together for Girls, in partnership with The Equality Institute and the Oak Foundation, undertook a systematic review of proven solutions and best practices to prevent and respond to sexual violence against children and young people.
This report presents the priority indicators from the Mozambique Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS, 2019).
An overview of the data from Botswana's Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS) report.
Learn more about the Violence Against Children and Youth Surveys (VACS), including background on the process for implementation, details about the type of data found in the surveys, and information on where the surveys have been conducted so far.
An overview of the data found in Zimbabwe's 2017 Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS) report.
An overview of the data found in Nigeria's Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS) report.
Find details about recent changes to the VACS questionnaire, including the review process, updated measures, and new modules for Latin American countries.
An overview of the data found in Lesotho's Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS) report.
This youth engagement toolkit is a unique new resource created for the campaign. It includes key messages and organizing tools designed specifically to guide youth-led organizations in delivering vital information on post-rape care to the youth populations they serve in the form of educational workshops.
This study explores the collective effects of childhood sexual, physical, and emotional violence on selected self-reported health outcomes among young Kenyan females and males using the Violence Against Children Survey (VACS).
Explore the first study to estimate the economic burden of aspects of violence against children in Nigeria.
This study compares the characteristics of survivors who present for healthcare to those of survivors reporting violence on national surveys; understand the healthcare services provided to survivors; and, identify barriers to treatment.
Explore the data in Uganda's Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS) report.
An overview of the data found in Uganda's Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS) report.
This paper uses data on childhood violence for 10,042 individuals from Cambodia, Kenya, Swaziland, Tanzania.
This document sets out the pathway that Nigeria will take to achieve the goal of ending violence against children.
This research briefing describes the contribution VACS have made to the global understanding of violence against children.
Explore the data in Nigeria's Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS) report.
This is the first ever National girls’ and young women’s empowerment framework outlines the government’s commitment to the empowerment of girls and young women through ensuring that they actively and effectively participate at all levels of social, economic, and political development.
This document serves as a guide for countries and Together for Girls partners interested in undertaking the Violence Against Children and Youth Surveys (VACS).
Explore the protocols on the multi-sectoral management of sexual abuse and violence in Zimbabwe.
Explore the data in Kenya's Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS) report.
An overview of data found in Kenya's 2012 Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS) report.
The National baseline survey on life experiences of adolescents is the first nationally representative study on violence against children in Zimbabwe.
This essay is guest authored by Peter Kisaakye, Francis Obare, George Odwe, Yohannes Wado, and Chi-Chi Undie. Part of Population Council’s Rooted Reflections series, the team share their experiences implementing the first-ever Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (HVACS), gathering vital data about violence against refugee children.
On May 11-13, 2022, senior government officials and civil society leaders from over 30 African countries gathered at the Pan-African symposium on violence prevention in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The Violence Against Children and Youth Survey report, reveals new data about the state of violence against children throughout Côte d’Ivoire, but also, pointing to critical facts that were previously unknown.
Sexual violence against children affects children everywhere at a staggering rate — one in four girls experience physically forced or coerced sexual intercourse.
Launched in 2007, the Violence Against Children and Youth Surveys in Eswatini was the first of its kind and a prototype for surveys to come, focused on sexual, physical, and emotional violence against girls and young women.
Together for Girls rang the the New York Stock Exchange opening bell on September 16, to celebrate a decade of partnership.
Together for Girls released a new case study highlighting groundbreaking country-led action to end violence against children and youth from a decade of the partnership’s collective work in Tanzania.
In celebration of Together for Girls' 10-year anniversary, we sat down with Gary to learn more about how Together for Girls came to be — where it all began, the challenges, the successes, and what’s next.
On September 21, the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN) launched an historic global, multi-year initiative focused on eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls (VAWG) – the Spotlight Initiative.
The photo exhibition, “Champions for change”, brings together personal stories showcasing how individual action can lead to a collective and forceful nationwide movement against gender-based violence.
Global landscape analysis provides evidence that the Violence Against Children and Youth Surveys (VACS) drive policy and program reform.
On July 16, 2020, the Government of Kenya shared their groundbreaking second Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS) Report.
We’re reflecting on a truly pivotal moment in our partnership’s history: the launch of the first Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS) in Eswatini (formerly Swaziland).