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A Legal Practitioners Perspective

In October 2019, I had the privilege of joining hundreds of researchers, government officials, and practitioners at the SVRI Forum in Cape Town, South Africa. Coming from a small non-profit organisation, my attendance was made possible through a generous bursary which covered my travel, accommodation and conference expenses.

I was extremely excited by the opportunity to be exposed to cutting-edge research from around the world on addressing sexual violence and other forms of violence against women and children

As this was my first research conference, I was extremely excited by the opportunity to be exposed to cutting-edge research from around the world on addressing sexual violence and other forms of violence against women and children (VAWC). As practitioners, there is never enough time amid day-to-day service delivery to review and reflect on the wealth of research being generated. Specifically, in my role as the Executive Director of a small non-profit organisation, time is a scarce resource as I try to balance the many hats I wear. As such, I was very grateful for the opportunity to devote an entire week to listening to and engaging with experts from the VAWC sector around the world on a variety of topics.

Lawyers against Abuse (LvA)

Lawyers against Abuse (LvA) is a community-based clinic that provides integrated legal and psychosocial support services for victims of gender-based violence (both children and adults). As such, I sought out panel discussions and presentations that focused on the response to VAWC as opposed to the prevention of VAWC in the more traditional sense (i.e. norms change, education). In so doing, I had the opportunity to engage with a handful of other legal practitioners, discussing our similar challenges and possible strategies that could be adapted in new contexts to address those challenges. However, throughout the week, I found that much of the existing academic research looking at the response to VAWC has a strong public health focus. While addressing VAWC through a public health lens is a relevant component of response work, I found there to be less of a research focus when it comes to evaluating what works to address the pervasive gaps in the legal response to VAWC around the world.

Four Minute Presentation on LvAs Approach to Addressing VAWC

For this reason, I was also very grateful for and humbled by the opportunity to do a Four-Minute Presentation on LvA’s integrated approach to addressing VAWC that seeks to strengthen the justice system response to VAWC at community level, while responding to victims’ legal, psychological and emotional needs.


Fmp L Henson

At the individual level, LvA attorneys provide comprehensive support with criminal cases and protection orders, supporting clients throughout the entire process while also holding state actors accountable for their obligations to victims. At the same time, LvA therapists provide ongoing therapy to address clients’ psychological and emotional needs throughout this process. At a systemic level, LvA works in partnership with local state actors to create accountability in instances of misconduct and strengthen overall capacity within systems.

By pushing individual cases from a single community through the system, LvA: (1) develops a nuanced understanding of how the system is broken and challenges facing both victims and state actors and (2) develops the legitimacy, trust and authentic relationships with state actors necessary to engage in the deeper systemic work of accountability and capacitation. This two-pronged approach that provides victim support, while also holding state actors accountable and building system capacity, is critical to ensuring that the law is actually implemented and the justice system works for ALL victims, not just LvA clients.

For this reason, I would encourage all donors, researchers, and practitioners to include access to justice as a vital component to any GBV response programming.

To learn more about LvA’s work, visit or contact


Visit To Johannesburg, South Africa In May 2017.

Written by Lindsay Henson, Lawyers against Abuse

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