Even before he takes office

By Shikha Bhattacharjee

Less than 48 hours since Donald Trump’s victory, police reports of attacks on Muslim women have begun and social media reports violence, racism, and harassment of people of color. Even before he takes office, Trump’s election is emboldening episodes of misogyny, racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and homophobia that have been the hallmarks of the Trump campaign.

Put another way, we have circulated Trump’s violent, discriminatory rhetoric to the point that it has become ordinary rather than exceptional.

Why? We are witnessing the strange fruits of Trump’s violent vitriol, projected as meta-law through unprecedented media circulation and authority conferred by his election to office. If by “law” we refer to the system of rules that America recognizes as regulating the actions of its members, enforced by imposition of penalties—here, meta-law refers to Donald Trump’s normalization of misogyny, racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and homophobia and authorization of vigilantism.

As once explained by Lawrence Liang, the real media innovation we are seeing today is the viral circulation of the micro image—in this case, the micro image of Donald Trump. Through viral circulation, Trump’s public displays of misogyny, racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and homophobia exit the realm of the outrageous and enter the world of the banal. Put another way, we have circulated Trump’s violent, discriminatory rhetoric to the point that it has become ordinary rather than exceptional.

Trump’s command of the airwaves has left us with a terrifying brand: unmasked white supremacy, misogyny and able-bodied supremacy, charged with a call to vigilante action. For many, Trump’s election has given license and impunity to discrimination and violence. Trump’s election confers vicarious authority and legitimacy upon his public displays of misogyny, racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia and homophobia. It is not surprising that within hours, we began to see this violence cross from rhetoric to action.

I do believe that not everyone who voted for Trump endorses the hideous brand of white supremacy, misogyny and able-bodied supremacy he has trumpeted, across the country and the airwaves, as he blazed a trail of destruction to the White House. However, every vote for Trump has functioned to legitimize and authorize discrimination and violence.

Berkeley Human Rights Q&A #9: Gavin Sheridan

Why Gavin Sheridan’s ‘nerdy journalism’ is good for democracy and human rights

uvy2wjk_400x400Gavin Sheridan was ahead of the curve as one of Ireland’s first bloggers in 2002 when he wrote about “anything and everything” in Gavin’s Blog. He’s remained on the cusp ever since, innovating at the nexus of tech and journalism—motivated by the idea that free-flowing information contributes to democracy. He was in on the early days of Storyful, considered the first social media news agency, and he has pioneered the uses of Freedom of Information Acts (FOIA) around the world. Now he’s trying, through his startup Vizlegal, to do for law what he did for journalism. He came to Berkeley this year to talk about a new era in human rights investigations that uses open sources to document international crimes and pursue justice.

Q. You have been on the cutting edge of journalism and tech throughout your life. Why do you think you’ve been able to see ahead?

A. I’m nearly 35 and I started using the internet in 1996 on a Windows 95 machine. It was dial up. I never studied computer science. I never learned how to program. But I was always very interested in taking a computer apart and seeing how to put it together and was curious about how the internet works. You become a nerd and are nerdy about these different things. And that dovetailed well with how the internet was affecting publishing. The more nerdy you were about tech and the internet, the more prepared you were for the disruption that was coming to the publishing industry. I didn’t plan it that way, but it was a happy coincidence.

You have this lovely thing at the end called ‘comments’ where people tell you, ‘Gavin you’re talking bullshit,’ or ‘Gavin this is a really good post,’ or nobody reads your blog post and you think, ‘What did I do wrong?’

Q. You were one of Ireland’s first bloggers. What did you learn by blogging so early on?

A. Owning your own blog makes you want to learn. You understand about SEO [Search Engine Optimization]. You start learning what blog posts work and what ones don’t. You watch your own traffic. You understand ranking and how Google works, how servers work. If I need to backup my database how do I do it? Over time, you get better and better at it. You start learning about Excel and data journalism and Access and you start arming yourself for what’s changing. That experimentation was missing from a lot of journalists I knew in the industry— ‘We have done it this way for 50 years and why would we change it, everything is OK.’ A little bit of head-in-the-sand attitude from managers in newsrooms who would just say this is an interesting toy. I’d say no, this is a fundamental thing. You need to start looking at this now. There is a lot of inertia in any organization, not just newsrooms, about change coming down the road.

Q. What is the relationship between blogging and journalism?

A. Long before I worked as a journalist, I was blogging about journalism. I was writing about and critiquing the press that I knew. I didn’t know many journalists at the time. I would write blog posts saying, ‘This is silly.’ I would write about niche areas that I knew very well. And I would blog about it for free and say, ‘This is my take and here’s why.’ I was publishing original documents or analysis that you wouldn’t get from traditional newspapers. And that builds traffic, builds an audience. I had a reasonably loyal readership for Gavin’s Blog over 10 years, and I built connections through it. You have this lovely thing at the end called ‘comments’ where people tell you, ‘Gavin you’re talking bullshit,’ or ‘Gavin this is a really good post,’ or nobody reads your blog post and you think, ‘What did I do wrong?’ That direct relationship with the audience is something newspapers were missing. They were just, ‘Here’s our content, it’s fantastic, now read it,’ which doesn’t work in an internet world. It’s not sustainable.

Q. When did you realize the relevance of social media to journalism?

A. 2009 was the year of experimentation and meeting people. I went to conferences to see what people were doing. The Iranian revolution had happened that June. I had been at the Obama election in October/November ’08, and I was experimenting with mobile journalism: how you use phones and cameras and livestreaming. I had been in Georgia—in the Caucasus—the previous month, just after the Russian invasion doing the same thing. At the time, Flips were popular video cameras, and notebooks were just becoming popular. I joined Twitter in August 2008 when it was still the butt of jokes for journalists. My moment for Twitter was when I was in Cleveland, Ohio, at a stump speech for Obama with Springsteen just before the election and I was, ‘Oh, Twitter is actually a thing.’ I went back for the inauguration in January 2009 and they had an iPhone at the stage. I was experimenting with livestreaming. That summer it was like, ‘What’s going on with this digital stuff and what’s going on with FOI [Freedom of Information]? I started experimenting with both.

Q. Why is FOIA important and how do you use it?

A. In summer 2009, I went to a conference in London called OpenTech. I met some Freedom of Information people. I was dumbstruck. I had never done FOIA requests properly before. There was a culture in the UK that didn’t exist in Ireland. I started looking at this area and filing FOIA requests for the first time with a data-oriented approach. I don’t want stories. I want databases. And from the databases I will try to get stories. We started experimenting with systematic or tactical FOIA requesting. Traditionally journalists would say, ‘I want to search for this specific document.’ You FOIA it, you get a document, you write your story, and then it was done. We thought that was kind of crazy. FOIA shouldn’t be about stories specifically, it should be about information and intelligence gathering.

Without information, citizens are powerless. You’re voting in the dark. Participating in the dark. The state holds the monopoly on information and controls the flow. Journalism is an information flow business.

Q. What exactly is Storyful?

A. I joined Storyful in February 2010. The next four or five years, FOIA was a hobby and Storyful was my full-time job. In 2010, we were trying to build a social news-telling or storytelling application…to take a Tweet or YouTube video or an Instagram post into a narrative and try to build a new form of narrative for a story. It was similar to another organization in San Francisco called Storify—similarly named. We had similar ideas. But Storyful went a different direction, which was toward professional services to find and verify content for news organizations.

Q. What was Storyful’s introduction to human rights?

A. It was right around the time of the Arab Spring. [Storyful founder] Mark [Little] had raised some money from angel investors. We had to build a team, build a newsroom from scratch, 24-7, monitor all news events globally using only social tools, verify that they were real, and sell that as a wire service to news organizations. Only social content. Mark [Little called it the first social media news agency. Ostensibly our competitors were AP [Associated Press] and Reuters. But AP and Reuters, at the time, didn’t see social as a big thing. Video content was driving it. You had an enormous growth of content coming from Arab Spring countries. You had entire revolutions being documented more or less on YouTube. And that year, you had the Japanese tsunamis, the London riots, the capture of Osama bin Laden. It was a big news year for user-generated content. Our objective was to try to put some kind of filter on it [social media]—get permission to use the content and sell that back to our clients. Algorithms only get you so far.

Q. The work seems so labor intensive. Were you a big team?

A. At the start, it was me, Mark, and Dermot [Casey]. By the end of 2010, we had nine or ten. By 2011, we were maybe 25 people. I hired a lot of former colleagues actually, like Malachy Browne, who has gone to The New York Times. At the time we had to build a small team and leverage tech as much as we could. There had to be a lot of tech savvy within the team. And if you didn’t have it, you had to learn it fast…We identified fairly early that tech was going to have to be something we used so that we didn’t have to hire more humans.

Q. What was it like at Storyful on a typical day? 

A. We’d have multiple shifts. We hired in multiple time zones. Typically, we would get up at 6 and go to work, all at our own machines. Everything was in the cloud. Nothing was stored on the computers. You’d open Tweetdeck and have 60 lists to monitor for what was going on. You’d prioritize among the team: What are the news events that are rich in UGC [User Generated Content] that we need to monitor? And then there were unanticipated events: breaking news events, where all hands were on deck. You had two roles: persistent monitoring of global news and acting fast and accurately with breaking news. We would identify an interesting video: Where was it shot? When was it shot? Who took it? What can we establish before we even contact the person who took it to see if we can get permission to use it? And that would all go into a content management system and then be accessed by our clients around the world.

Q. What social media platforms did you rely on?

A. I started working on a recommendation for Twitter in May 2011 with researchers at University College Dublin to improve our ability to build lists fast because we relied on lists on Twitter quite a lot for monitoring purposes to see what was going on in the world, in whatever language. We had to find the content and in order to find the content, we had to know what was going on, especially in breaking news situations. We were able to get quite a bit done with a reasonably small team that was very well-honed on using social media tools. And then we developed methodologies around verification as a team. I built in a detection system with the same researchers to try to automatically recognize when a bomb explodes or a car accident happens through purely social mechanisms. We raised more money and hired more staff. At the start of 2013, we started moving into viral. Not just hard news, but cat videos—any videos we thought were going to get traction. You start doing licensing deals with uploaders. You might do your first and only viral video in your life and get 40 or 50 million views on YouTube. We would help that person spread that content around as fast as possible and maximize the financial return and protect it as well.

Q. Did you build apps as well?

A. We built a tool in 2013 around social discovery—searching social platforms simultaneously for keywords related to any breaking news event, in any language, to be mined simultaneously and to cut down on the work humans have to do. Translate that into an ‘evolution of the wire service.’ In summer 2013, we were approached for acquisition. And we were acquired by News Corp. It was a three-and-a-half-year sprint. I stayed on for another six months and left.

Q. Who were the clients?

A. The first couple were Google and YouTube and later ABC in New York then France24 and The New York Times, and it expanded from there. By 2013, we had Reuters as a client for breaking news and it expanded to lots of newsrooms around Europe. Some we never got as clients—like CNN.

Q. Did you break news?

A. Sometimes we would be very, very early on a breaking news event and know about it before our clients in a lot of cases. One of my breaking stories was the Anders Breivik online manifesto after the Norway attack. Because we were good Google ninjas, we found it very early and got a lot of traffic. Our modus operandi was to find content first. You are trying to scoop your customers. Faster than BBC and The New York Times.

Q. What skills beyond reporting did you need for this work?

A. All the skills you would bring to bear are all the skills you would never learn in journalism school. It was nerdy journalism. Once you find something, what steps do you take to find out if it’s a fake or something we’ve seen before? How do you describe it to another journalist. Journalists are always skeptical, so we had to build a lot of trust with clients. If they didn’t trust us, our business was finished.

Q. You’re working with some intense content. How did you protect yourselves?

A. We hired a counselor on retainer. And anyone could anonymously go to the counselor whenever they wanted. I never used it, but a lot of people found it helpful. You never forced anyone to watch content. It’s a process of volunteering.

Q. In terms of human rights, what is the value of this work?

A. Nobody I know of was systematically documenting the entire Arab Spring and watching more or less every video that had any conflict in it. We were interested in watching and documenting. We were writing shot lists, descriptions. In our CMS, we said this video was filmed at this latitude and longitude. We could monitor vast amounts of video content every day with a reasonably small team and document huge amounts of information in a systematic rigorous way.  

Q. What is your startup Vizlegal trying to do and how does it jibe with what you’ve done before?

A. Our idea was to take the philosophy from Storyful of newsgathering systemisation, take that principle, take it to judgments emanating from courts, and take all of the information flowing from legal bodies and structure it and ingest it into an API. To scratch my own itch—if a judge ever mentions FOIA—I would like to email him that day and say, ‘Here is the judgment that was mentioned.’ In an information-rich industry like law, there is little data. We want to convert text into data and build insights into jurisprudence, to look at how laws are evolving. We want to build a set of tools that lawyers, and academics and newsrooms pay for. Like all good things, we are open minded to how it evolves from a business point of view. The legal industry reminds me of the news industry 10 years ago in terms of its relationship to technology.

Q. What motivates you?

A. It’s all about information. Storyful, Right To Know, Vizlegal, FOIA stuff. It’s all information flow. It’s all about the imparting and ingesting of information. Information is what’s important for a good democracy. Really. Without information, citizens are powerless. You’re voting in the dark. Participating in the dark. The state holds the monopoly on information and controls the flow. Journalism is an information flow business. We just don’t call it that. I get information, I analyze it, parse it and write a story about it. It could be an interview or a YouTube video, a tweet, it doesn’t matter what it is. Empowering the free flow of information helps democracy, that’s the key thing. And I want to live in healthy democracies, not secretive ones.

Berkeley’s Human Rights Investigations Lab trains students to document human rights abuses

The Human Rights Center at UC Berkeley School of Law—winner of the 2015 MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions—announces the piloting of the Human Rights Investigations Lab, the world’s first university-based initiative to use open sources for human rights documentation and accountability.

Berkeley students practice open source investigation skills during Amnesty International’s Training.

Amnesty International is partnering with Berkeley’s Human Rights Center as well as the University of Essex and University of Pretoria as part of its Digital Verification Corps, training students to use open source methods to bring attention to human rights abuses as well as gather evidence of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes for future prosecutions.

Human Rights Center Executive Director Alexa Koenig launches the Human Rights Investigations Lab.

“We’re working toward a future where human rights researchers and practitioners can effectively harness the investigative and evidentiary value of the internet,” said Alexa Koenig, executive director of the Human Rights Center. “With an open source investigations lab at UC Berkeley, we believe that lawyers will be better able to investigate and prosecute those responsible for atrocity crimes and human rights organizations will be able to more effectively and efficiently expose abuses around the world.”

Amnesty’s experts came to Berkeley last month to train more than 40 Berkeley students—who collectively speak 14 languages—to verify photographs and videos and use geolocation tools. The students area already beginning to gather and verify video footage from Syria. (Read Berkeley student Ilaf Esuf’s reflection about her involvement with the la.)

“What we hope to achieve with this project is to help Amnesty’s researchers take advantage of content shared on social media and have it verified. But we’re also in a unique position where we can help train the next generation of human rights investigators in skills that are increasingly sought after,” said Sam Dubberley, the manager of the Digital Verification Corps for Amnesty. “It’s just so great to have three universities around the globe so willing to embrace this project.

Amnesty International’s Milena Marin and Sam Dubberley speak at UC Berkeley.

In recent years, smart phones and media-sharing platforms have proliferated, allowing people to share information in innovative ways. While journalists and human rights researchers have long used photographs and videos to expose human rights abuses, they now face a deluge of digital information, including video, images, audio files, text-based messages, and other communications. To provide just one example, over four million videos with the keyword “Syria” have been uploaded to YouTube in the last year alone. Ironically, this volume poses a daunting challenge for human rights actors, who need to not only comb through those videos, but also to verify and authenticate them.

Human rights investigations increasingly rely on open source intelligence (OSINT)—information gleaned from social media and other sources, including but not limited to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube—to identify, document, and verify violations of human rights or international humanitarian law. For example, a relatively recent report from the nongovernmental organization Bellingcat convincingly documented Russian involvement in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine—and did so exclusively with open source investigation techniques. Bellingcat’s founder, Eliot Higgins, is a Research Fellow at the Human Rights Center.

The Human Rights Center recognizes the potential of tapping the expertise of Berkeley’s graduate and undergraduate students—from disciplines such as journalism, law, political science, computer science, and more—to make a significant contribution to human rights investigations for both journalistic and legal purposes.

“Open source investigations promise to help bring perpetrators to justice and truth to light,” said Koenig. “We are excited to draw from a vast pool of talented Berkeley students who are eager to contribute to human rights investigations and to be trained by expert journalists and investigators from around the world.”

Berkeley Human Rights Q&A #8

California takes lead on gun violence research, thanks to this man

Dr. Garen Wintemute

Dr. Garen Wintemute—an emergency medicine doctor and one of the nation’s leading firearm violence researchers—has reason to be optimistic. After weathering the federal government’s decades-long divestment from gun research (by simply funding it himself with more than a million dollars of his own money), he will direct the new state-funded University of California Firearm Violence Research Center from his UC Davis campus. And he’s got at least $5 million to do it.  Wintemute and his colleagues have led a public health approach to gun violence, which results in 30,000 deaths and 75,000 injuries a year. He studies the epidemiology of that violence—conducting rigorous research to combat myths, illuminate truths, and feed policy recommendations. He comes to campus this week as the first speaker in Berkeley’s Gun Violence in America series.

Watch the livestream on Wed. 9/21 at 5 pm.

Q. What was your relationship to guns growing up?

A. There were guns in the house—it was the 1950s and 1960s. The thing to do in my neighborhood was to play army. All the kids had toy guns, and we would play with them for seemingly hours on end. I actually was offered a job by the YMCA teaching riflery full time—at least as summer employment—but chose another job instead. And to fast forward that into adulthood, I enjoy shooting. I used to be pretty good at it, just haven’t done it in a long time.

You have to keep pushing, because people are dying, but it’s unrealistic to expect that society is going to turn on a dime…

Q: Where did your commitment to firearm research come from?

A: I was working as an emergency medical physician in the 1980s and became very interested in preventing the injuries that brought people through the doors of the emergency department. On top of that, early on I spent five months in Cambodia. This was right after Pol Pot’s time, in an area where combat still went on. We would hear landmines go off and wonder if we would see that person or not.

Q: What are some of your more surprising research findings?

A: I work hard at maintaining equipoise and so I am not often surprised. The trick is to go in without prior expectations, if possible. More than surprise, it is the sheer joy of discovery—of crunching some numbers or interviewing some people and realizing in one way or another: here’s important new knowledge and right now I am in that rare and very privileged position to be the person who knows about it and can bring it to the world and relieve suffering as a result.

They were concerned that research might be substrate for changing firearm policy in ways that harmed their interests. So they arrived at the entirely logical conclusion that if the research was threatening, the thing to do was to prevent the research from being done in the first place.

Q: That must be really gratifying, but isn’t it incredibly frustrating when the response to some of this nuanced research is met with simplistic arguments?

A. Yes, there is frustration, but the important thing is to let the frustration go. This is a controversial issue, and there are people who will react negatively without bothering to see what the research is actually about. Frustration comes from impatience and it’s really important to be patient. You have to keep pushing, because people are dying, but it’s unrealistic to expect that society is going to turn on a dime on this issue.

Q: Do you think we’re close to any kind of tipping point for gun regulation?

A: Whether it’s regulation or something broader, I absolutely do. We’ve seen for the past four years now, a breadth and a depth of concern in society about firearm violence that simply was not there before. Although they are relatively rare events, public mass shootings have a great deal to do with that change in attitude. There is a reason for this: with ordinary homicide, much of any society can tell a story that writes them out of the risk picture, if you will. They can say, “homicide happens to people who don’t look like me, who don’t have my demographics.” Suicide, which is much more common, we just don’t really talk about much at all, so it’s easy to ignore. But public mass shootings can’t be put at a distance. “They don’t happen in places I know not to go to. They happen in precisely the kinds of places that I do go. They don’t happen to people I can distance myself from either socially or demographically. They happen to people just like me.” So, for the first time, I think, everybody recognizes that the risk extends to them. And frankly we greatly overestimate on average our risk of being in a mass shooting, but the critical difference is that everyone understands that this is not somebody else’s problem; it’s their problem.

Q: You’ve said that public perceptions about mass shootings are also one of the biggest myths surrounding guns.

A. Public mass shootings account for less than one percent of deaths from firearm violence in the United States. But they are one of the things driving the current public perception about firearm violence. Firearm violence is in the public mind on a day-to-day basis now in a way that it just hasn’t been. Some of the reactions are beneficial. There is clearly an interest in doing more about preventing violence. But other reactions are arguably detrimental. Every time there is a mass shooting, sales in firearms spike. There is solid evidence that having easy access to firearms increases one’s risk of death or serious injury from firearms. Firearms are durable products, and every time sales spike, there’s an influx of these durable products into society. We are going to be living with the results of that influx for decades.

Not doing research on firearm violence is like not doing research on motor vehicle injuries and, although the scales are different, not doing research on cancer or on heart disease.

Q. What are some of the big myths you see in terms of public perceptions about guns?

A. There are so many. One is that rates of firearm violence are decreasing. They are not. If you combine suicide and homicide at the national level they haven’t budged an iota in the last 15 years—although they may have ticked up in 2015 and 2016. We just don’t have the data yet. Interestingly, during that same period of time, when there has been no change overall nationwide, the rate of fatal firearm violence has gone down here in California by more than 20 percent. We are going to be investigating the very interesting question of why that is.

Q. Is there shoddy research out there?

A. There is. People have accepted data uncritically, or not thought carefully through the assumptions that underlie their work. Or they have leapt to inappropriate conclusions. A number of us have had to spend time—sometimes privately as reviewers and sometimes publicly as commenters and editorialists—calling out junk science. This really makes me angry on several grounds. I would rather be doing good science than critiquing bad science. When I read these papers, I think these people are doing unsophisticated, careless, slipshod work. But to be honest, the thing that makes me angriest comes from not my background as a scientist but my work as a clinician. Real people are dying. Real people are being disabled. To do crummy science is to show disrespect for those people. And to me that’s absolutely intolerable.

Q. Why and how did the Centers for Disease Control defund research about guns?

A. In the late 1980s, rates of firearm violence started climbing rapidly again in the United States. We did something very laudable, something that we take pride in as a country when faced with a crisis. We mobilized. Money was becoming available for research. People were starting to do really solid research. Congress was interested in putting the results of that research into action. But that, from the point of view of some vested interests, was precisely the problem. They were concerned that research might be substrate for changing firearm policy in ways that harmed their interests. So they arrived at the entirely logical conclusion that if the research was threatening, the thing to do was to prevent the research from being done in the first place.

Q. Who spearheaded this effort in Congress?

A. Jay Dickey, from Arkansas, who described himself at the point person for the NRA, caused to be adopted into CDC’s budget language a provision that CDC’s funds could not be used to “advocate or promote gun control.” Nothing was actually said about research. But what Congress did was take from CDC’s budget an amount equal to the amount that it had been providing for research and give it back to CDC earmarked for another purpose….President Obama brought this up in January 2013 after Sandy Hook. Research, he said, is not advocacy. He directed CDC to do research. He asked Congress for $10 million to fund it. He is still asking. Mr. Dickey himself has had a change of heart and for several years has called for more research on firearm violence. He and Dr. Mark Rosenberg, who headed CDC’s injury prevention program in the 1990s, wrote a letter to the California Legislature strongly supporting the creation of the new research center.

Q. So you funded the research yourself.

A. Not doing research on firearm violence is like not doing research on motor vehicle injuries and, although the scales are different, not doing research on cancer or on heart disease. It’s absurd to think that we can deal effectively with a complex problem like this without understanding it. I came to the decision that I would keep this program running.

Q. But that’s all changing now in California. Will Governor Brown’s new commitment to researching gun violence make the state a leader, like we have been on climate change?

A. Yes, no question about it. …The existence of the center and the work that it will do will create a foundation of evidence that won’t exist anywhere else.

Q. Where will you start?

A. There’s absolutely no part of firearm violence about which we know enough. We’re going to start with the very basics. We are going to look in detail at the epidemiology of firearm violence in California. For some of that work we will use available data because the available data are good. The last time anybody did a solid, even cross sectional look at the epidemiology of firearm violence in California was 1987. I know because I did that study. We are also planning to do a large-scale survey to learn about the prevalence of firearm ownership, factors associated with firearm ownership, and the benefits that firearm owners attribute to firearm ownership. We will also be asking about firearm violence. What are the prevalence and intensity and consequences of exposure to it?

Q. How many more researchers will be involved?

A. Nationwide there are maybe a dozen or 15-ish people who have had this problem as their major focus for a long time. And this is a health problem that kills 30,000 people a year and is responsible for perhaps $200 billion in aggregate societal costs. And here are these 15 people. This is just wrong. There’s going to be a core group of four investigators here at UC Davis, and we have many collaborators here and at other institutions. And there will be one or two people as the nucleus of a team at each of the partner campuses. And we’ll build from there. Speaking of which, we are recruiting…

Q. How will the research you do become policy?

A. We’re in Sacramento, not in Davis, and not just because that’s where the hospital is. I work with the legislature and state agencies all the time. They are 10 minutes from where I am standing now. It’s absolutely possible to do research and talk with policymakers about the implications of that research and to work with them directly on the translational effort that moves research into effective policy. In California, it almost goes without saying that once the policy is adopted, it gets enforced and someone circles back to see if it’s doing what it’s supposed to do.

Q. Do you ever feel that if you could just prove one thing, it would change everything? Is there some Holy Grail out there on gun violence?

A. There is no Holy Grail, no final dispositive piece of truth that will make all this right. Truth is not a destination. Truth is a direction. We continue to learn. Good research is better than the research that comes before it and not as good as the research that follows. We build on each other’s efforts. It’s important to remember that we are doing science in the public interest. One of the reasons I like doing clinical work in the emergency department is that it reminds me of who I am working for.

Q. It must be so exciting to finally have resources to do something.

A. I can’t put into words how thrilling this is. Today, our little building was buzzing with people working on three or four different projects at the same time. I just stood in the center of the building listening and looking around and thinking: This is a dream come true.

Freccero Selected to Improve World Response to Gender-based Violence in Greece’s Refugee Camps

Julie Freccero

The United Nations Population Fund has selected Julie Freccero, associate director of the Human Rights Center’s Sexual Violence Program at UC Berkeley School of Law, for a three-month deployment in Greece to help develop and coordinate the response to gender-based violence against refugees and migrants in Greece, where more than 50,000 people remain stranded.

Freccero will conduct assessments in the camps to identify urgent health and protection needs, collect data to understand the scope of gender-based violence, and propose solutions. She will also provide training and technical assistance to organizations on the ground to improve effectiveness.

“After hearing stories of gender-based violence and observing the absence of critical services firsthand during our scoping mission earlier this year, I’m thrilled to be able to work directly on the response in Greece in such a concrete way,” Freccero said. “I hope to contribute to making life safer for refugees and migrants in Greece, and to ensuring that survivors have access to the protection and support services they need.”

Freccero, who holds a master’s degree in Public Health from UC Berkeley, completed an intensive, six-day training program on sexual and reproductive health in emergencies, sponsored by the Humanitarian and Fragile Contexts Branch of the United Nations Population Fund in Turin, Italy, in June. At that workshop, she and participants from 10 countries took part in hands-on exercises and simulations related to gender-based violence and sexual and reproductive health during emergencies.

Now Freccero will have a chance to engage in such efforts again—for real this time.

She will draw on her years of experience conducting seminal research to improve safe shelters for sexual violence survivors in refugee and IDP camps and accountability for wartime sexual violence.

“Julie’s selection represents an important opportunity to put our hands-on research into practice,” said Alexa Koenig, executive director of the Human Rights Center. “Her work on the ground will enable the United Nations to craft better policies to protect refugees from gender-based violence.”

Bellingcat’s Eliot Higgins joins the Human Rights Center

Award-winning citizen journalist Eliot Higgins

Award-winning citizen journalist Eliot Higgins has joined the Human Rights Center at UC Berkeley School of Law as a Research Fellow, as part of the center’s Human Rights Investigations Lab.

Higgins, founder of Bellingcat and the Brown Moses Blog, is a global leader in the use of social media and other publicly available sources to investigate conflict, including human rights violations. He publishes the work of an international alliance of citizen journalists who trawl the web to document the weapons and tactics deployed in armed conflict, including the downing of flight MH17 in Ukraine and Sarin and chlorine gas attacks in Syria. According to Human Rights and Technology Program Director Keith Hiatt, “Eliot’s expertise in vehicle and munitions identification is well known, but it’s his ability to coordinate the efforts of a globally distributed team of investigators, and synthesize findings in an accessible way, that really sets him apart.”

“We’ve entered a new era of human rights investigations and Eliot Higgins is at the forefront of that work,” said Alexa Koenig, executive director of the Human Rights Center. “We are honored to partner with Eliot and to support his groundbreaking efforts to investigate human rights abuses.”

Higgins is currently a visiting research associate at the Centre for Science and Security Studies at the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. In addition, he is a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Future Europe Initiative, where he co-authored major reports documenting Russia’s involvement in the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine.

The Human Rights Investigations Lab at UC Berkeley will become part of Amnesty International’s “Digital Verification Corps,” along with the University of Essex and the University of Pretoria. The center will launch the lab in January 2017.

Berkeley Human Rights Q&A #7: Michele DiTomas

A prison doc’s mission to fix the system

Dr. Michele DiTomas, Chief Physician at the California Correctional Medical Facility and 1997 Human Rights Center Fellow.

As the Chief Physician at the California Correctional Medical Facility and Director of Hospice for incarcerated men, Dr. Michele DiTomas is charged with caring for some of the state’s most vulnerable people and helping to fix a broken system. When federal judge Thelton Henderson ruled in Plata v. Schwarzenegger more than a decade ago that a lack of appropriate medical care in California’s adult prisons was unconstitutional—citing “outright depravity” and egregious misconduct in the system—he ordered the federal government to enter the prison system into receivership. DiTomas was among the doctors hired to clean house. She now manages fifteen doctors who care for 2,800 inmates, at least half of whom are mentally ill or developmentally delayed. Her formal education (a Joint Medical Degree from UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco) and real-world experience have prepared her well. She was in the Peace Corps in Malawi in the early 1990s carrying out famine relief work during a massive drought, in the slums of Bangkok for her Human Rights Center Fellowship in 1997, and in poor and marginalized Bay Area communities for residency and beyond. Since 2006, she’s worked tirelessly within the state’s troubled mass incarceration system.

Note: The opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) or the Federal Receivership. 

Q. Although you worked in Malawi and Thailand, you ultimately did your medical residency in San Francisco. Why?

A. When you’re 35 and have three kids, you realize you’re probably not going to work in a Mozambican refugee camp with Doctors Without Borders. The residency I chose was UCSF family medicine and based at SF General. You’re working with people who have serious mental illness, substance issues, socio-economic challenges, immigration issues, poverty issues. It turns out that the people who I like to take care of most are these middle-aged, intermittently incarcerated homeless men. Every day I hear a story about an experience that is very different than what I encounter in my daily life.

Q. What did Plata v. Schwarzenegger say about health-care in California’s prisons?

A. Medical care in the prisons was found to be unconstitutional. People were dying unnecessarily in their cells. They were presenting with shortness of breath, told to go back to their cells for their asthma attack, and then died of asthma. There were egregious cases. Medical care was being given by people who were not necessarily qualified to give medical care. There has been a huge change since the receiver took over. Over the last 10 years, medical care inside the system has dramatically improved.

Part of why we have such overly aggressive sentencing in our criminal justice system is because as a society we tend to put things in categories. These guys are in prison, so they must be bad. That’s not what you learn when you spend time with people and hear their stories.

Q. Where did you begin?

A. I was hired as a Chief Physician and Surgeon—half clinical and half supervisory. The combination gave me time to do clinical work, but also work on system and quality improvements. I think it would have been too frustrating to go into such a damaged system and slog through the day and see the problems but not have any time to help make the system better.

Q. Does the California Correctional Medical Center feel like a prison or a hospital? Do you ever feel unsafe?

A. Part of why we have such overly aggressive sentencing in our criminal justice system is because as a society we tend to put things in categories. These guys are in prison, so they must be bad. That’s not what you learn when you spend time with people and hear their stories. When I’m walking down the main line and all of the guys from Unit 4 at 6:30 in the morning are walking out of their unit for chow, they say, “Hey, doc” or “Hey doc, thanks for helping me.” It feels safe to me. I have felt more unsafe at SF General because there you have very mentally ill patients who aren’t getting treated and you have no officers around if something goes wrong. Unfortunately, prison has become our nation’s de facto mental health treatment system. On the inside in California people have access to treatment programs, psychiatric medications, groups. It’s when we send them back out into society that they often do not have these supports.

Q. You also oversee the state’s hospice program for incarcerated men, with 17 beds. Hospice in prison must be a bit complicated.

A. Often people are estranged from family members. They haven’t seen them in many years. Sometimes they don’t even know if anybody is alive anymore. Many times family members were the victims of the crime. Often our incredible chaplain is able to track down family members. Recently he told three daughters that their father was here in hospice and that he wanted to see them before he died so that he could make amends for all of the pain and suffering he’d caused. And they said “No, we don’t want to ever see him again.” Click. The next day they all showed up at the front gate without any clearances or anything. This man had killed his wife in an alcoholic rage. They were kids when it happened and had been terrified of this man their whole life. He was a monster to them. They come in and here’s this little old man who says, “I’m so, so sorry.” He was able to have closure and to die in peace. Even more importantly these women who are now in their 30s and 40s will be able to live the rest of their lives knowing that he asked their forgiveness and that they forgave him the best that they could.

Unfortunately, prison has become our nation’s de facto mental health treatment system.

Q. Can we let out incarcerated men who have only a short time to live?

A. There is a process of compassionate release. If a doctor determines that a patient has less than six months to live, we can petition the courts to consider the individual for release. Since one of the criteria for hospice admission is a prognosis of less than six months, we request compassionate release for all of our hospice patients. Custody then reviews the case and if the patient is thought to not be a danger to society, they will forward the case to the court or the parole board for consideration. The problem is that the process typically takes four to five months and many of our patients have only weeks to months to live. This is an area of much needed reform so that the logistics of the process do not make the goal impossible.

Q. It’s probably not great for your mental health to be in prison. Are we doing all we can for mentally ill patients?

A. That’s what surprised me most when I started working there. I didn’t understand that we incarcerate people who are floridly psychotic when they commit their crime. One of the first years I was working I was reviewing my patient’s chart and saw his psychiatry note. When he committed his crime, he had this delusion that there were huge metal plates coming down from the sky trying to crush his car. The police were chasing him, he was speeding, crashed his car and hurt people. And he was put in prison. That was a wakeup call to me. He was running from something that he truly thought was a threat and yet he ends up inside a prison. Seems like there should be an alternative for cases like this. I also didn’t realize the degree of cognitive disability that people can have and still be incarcerated. I have patients who are so challenged that they have to be reminded daily to brush their teeth, shower and eat. And with the aging prison population we are spending extraordinary amounts of money caring for demented elders who need assistance with all of their activities of daily living.

No one intended for him to die in prison and certainly no one intended for his mother to have to live with that for the rest of her life.

Q. Do you consider your work human rights work?

A. This is my biggest internal conflict. Yes, I believe access to healthcare is a human right. But it also means working within a system that, in my opinion, is an unjust system.

Q. What’s the most unjust part of that system?

A. The sentencing laws are outrageous, often with sentences vastly out of proportion to the crime. They give much too long sentences. Many of our elderly patients are absolutely not a danger to society. The risk of recidivism is very low and yet we’re keeping them inside. And that feels wrong. Another area is the overuse of administrative segregation. A man gets caught with a bag of marijuana and a cell phone—these are potential security risks because people have called hits from prison and hurt other people—but no one deserves six months in solitary because of marijuana and a cell phone.

Q. Have your patients been further harmed by solitary confinement?

A. One man I remember well was my patient for about five years. He was a paraplegic. He had been shot in the spine in his early 20s, but was really fit with a sporty wheelchair. He had a history of depression but it was controlled. After he was sent to solitary confinement because he was caught with a marijuana and a cell phone, he became profoundly depressed. He was delusional. Paranoid. He gained 40 pounds. He would come in with these paranoid ideas that I knew weren’t happening. I attempted to advocate for him several times and custody did try to expedite the process. Human Rights Watch says more than two weeks in isolation is a human rights violation. There are challenges to being part of a system that does things like that. Sometimes I feel I should leave. But then somebody thanks me for helping them get the medical care that they needed. Or I have a small success, where I feel like my actions may have done something to change the culture for the better.

 Q. Do you have an example of this?

A. We admitted a patient to hospice who had a few weeks left to live. He really wanted to speak to his daughter one last time before he died and say goodbye, but she was incarcerated as well at a woman’s prison and was in ad seg [administrative segregation, also called solitary confinement]. We worked with our Warden who got permission from the Warden at his daughter’s facility for a phone conversation. It was arranged that they would have a 15-minute conversation. Afterwards the daughter was taken to a session with her mental health provider to help her process the intense experience. Later, I got an email from a captain at the other facility thanking us for allowing him to take part in such a moving and compassionate experience. He said in 25 years as a correctional officer it was one of the most positive things he had been a part of. These sorts of experiences remind me why I continue this work.

Q. Is there any one case that really haunts you?

A. There’s one, a 35-year-old man who had been using some drugs, perhaps dealing, maybe some burglary, nothing incredibly violent. He ended up stealing his mother’s car. She was at the end of her rope and was worried she was enabling his behavior. So she called the police and he ended up getting five years, which wasn’t what she anticipated. As a child he had suffered from a rare cancer that he had survived and was thought to be cured. During his second year in prison, his cancer came back. He ended up coming to our hospice. His mother visited him all of the time and wanted nothing more than to have him come home with her. We applied for compassionate release but the cancer was aggressive and we slowly watched him go from a strong independent man to fully bed-bound. We did not think he was going to make it home and it was so hard to watch. Finally, he was granted release but custody had 14 days to let him out. I wasn’t sure he was going to make it until Monday, let alone 14 days. So Friday night at 4:55 PM we found someone to send us the official court documents and I got a promise someone would work on it over the weekend so he could leave on Monday. The most haunting part when I told him he could go on Monday was the profoundly sad look on his face. I thought he would be elated but his eyes said that he was not sure he would make it. Thankfully, he did make it until Monday and was able to go home with his mother. He died four days later. No one intended for him to die in prison and certainly no one intended for his mother to have to live with that for the rest of her life.

Q. Are you optimistic now that it seems more and more people are interested in fixing the mass incarceration system?

A. Sometimes I am optimistic and sometimes I’m not. Michael Romano is a civil rights lawyer who runs what used to be called the Three Strikes Clinic at Stanford and they advocate for people with life sentences. He played a huge role in putting together Prop. 36, which changed the [thee strikes] penalty so that the third strike had to be a serious or violent offense. And it passed overwhelmingly. I think people realized the pendulum had swung too far. Usually I don’t know my patient’s crimes. I had known this one woman for a long time, a lifer, when one day she saw me in the hall and came over excitedly and said, “I’m going home!” And I said, “What do you mean?” And she said, “My third strike was for stealing mascara!” She got life in prison for stealing mascara. And she got out. So thanks Michael Romano. There are movements to pull the pendulum back. There’s always hope.


Human Rights Center Fellows: dispatch from the field

Children at the Dar Al-Fanon community center in the Askar Qadim refugee camp in the West Bank.
Children at a community center within a West Bank refugee camp.

West Bank children: Living in the balance between trauma and joy

A reflection from Thanh Mai, a 2016 Human Rights Center Fellow, who is working with children at a refugee camp in the West Bank. 

The Palestinians here do not own the sky. They cannot build or have anything higher than 60 meters in the air. The center is working on building and installing a flag pole that is 55 meters high, which is taller than the wall, and hoisting a huge 30 by 20 meter Palestinian flag so that it will be visible across the country. This was astounding to me because it means so much to them.

The children especially love taking photos on my phone and ask to borrow it to watch YouTube videos. They showed me a video of a wave pool at a water park, and asked if I had ever been to one. I said that I had and they got very excited, and I asked why they liked it so much and they said that it was because it was like the ocean. They got even more excited and asked me if I had ever been to the ocean, and I said yes, I live by the ocean and go swimming all the time. They said that it was their dream to see the ocean—not even go in it, just see it.

Spending time with the children in the summer camp has been very impactful since there is a general balance between the trauma and the pure joy that they experience as children. They don’t tell sad stories about their home life or cry often. They play and are more conscientious and kind than many of the children that I have met in the United States. Little stories will come out here and there, but they are just so happy to have these normal activities. They participate in traditional dance, drama, arts and crafts, and music; their abilities to process and vocalize their experiences surpassed my expectations. The first thing they wanted to draw was the Palestinian flag. The terms they asked for in English were all related to explaining the occupation and living near the wall. They love their families and they love each other, and as they grow older they come to understand more and more about how their situation is not shared by many other people in the world.

Human Rights Center Fellows: dispatch from the field

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A women’s agricultural group working with Nari Gunjan in India.

Working with Nari Gunjan (Women’s Voice), India

The mission of the Nari Gunjan in Bihar State in India is to socio-politically, economically, and physically empower the Scheduled caste girls and women, particularly the Musahar, through the medium of education. Founded in 1987 by Sudha Varghese, the organization is providing elementary education as well as vocational and life skills training to over 3,000 girls at alternative educational centers in 40 villages. Woojin is assisting Nari Gunjan in creating a rights-based monitoring and evaluation framework to determine the developmental and human rights impact of the program.

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.”

Excerpt from Woojin Jung’s report from the field:

In 1987, Sudha, who was from a prosperous family in Kerala, moved to a cluster of mud houses in Jamsaut village in Bihar and began helping the Musahar. A Musahar girl, Lalmati, lived in the same village where Sudha had settled. Her family was the poorest of the poor, living in a deplorable situation. They lived in a small hut in tolla (Musahar Settlement). Because her parents were older, nobody would give them work. So her mother collected paddy and grains while her father went to fish with a fishing rod. They also grew vegetables, ate, and sold the rest.

For some reason, Lalmati was older than her classmates. When she came back home from school, she had much work to do. She cut rice, cooked food for her family, took care of the elderly and young brothers and sisters, and fed goats and cows. By the time she finished all the household chores, it was already evening. She could not afford a lantern, so ran to Sudha didi (big sister)’s house. There, she studied by the light of a bulb.

Late in the evening, most of the families in her community came to talk with Sudha about their struggles—from sexual violence, to minimum wages, caste issues, tensions between next tola, and health problems. Lalmati spent much time listening to Sudha and developed different ways of looking at her surroundings. After all the families left, Sudha shared her dinner with Lamati, who would then fall asleep.

In 1987, Sudha converted a latrine into a classroom in her village, and launched a learning center for adolescent girls. The center provided alternative education for children who were left out of the formal education system. At first Sudha taught the girls, but later could not teach them because she was starting education centers in other villages.

Teachers hired from outside the community did not come on time and did not want to sit close to the children from the Musahar, who were in the lowest rung of the caste system. Facing discrimination similar to what they experienced in public schools, the children were reluctant to come to the center. So, Sudha had to change teachers two or three times.

Looking at Lalmati, Sudha thought, “Why don’t I give her a chance?” and asked her, “Can you teach? I can pay you exactly what I pay for the teacher.” With Lalmati from the same Musahar community, children felt at home and did not miss classes. She received 750 rupees per month and saved the money to take care of her parents.

With Nari Gunjan’s program, many Musahar girls started to become more passionate about being educated and even getting jobs. Still, child marriage remains a crippling cause of poor enrollment and attainment in girls’ education. Parents fear that when their daughters get older they will not find a suitable boy and that the more educated their daughters, the more dowry their in-laws will demand.

Lalmati is the first girl to complete the secondary school and became employed at the government school. As a teacher and a mother of two, she demonstrates the ripple effect of education by sharing her knowledge and experience with the next generation, and by helping young people to achieve an equal right to education. On the wall of Prerna hostel, it says “The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.” She clearly sets an example.



Berkeley Human Rights Q&A #6: Julie Freccero

Scoping mission: How do we protect refugee children from sexual violence?


Julie Freccero meets with a Serbian police official in March 2016.

Julie Freccero, associate director of the Human Rights Center’s Sexual Violence Program, visited Greece, Serbia, and Germany during a research scoping mission in March to learn about the needs of refugees—particularly refugee children—and their vulnerabilities to trafficking and sexual violence. The scoping team, which also included Kim Thuy Seelinger, director of the  Sexual Violence Program, and Rich Weir, Berkeley Law JD ’16, interviewed government officials, service providers, and advocates. In Greece, they found that refugees lacked access to safe shelters and even basic medical services for sexual violence. HRC researchers will return to Greece later this year to assess the needs of unaccompanied refugee children, in hopes of improving protection and support services. Freccero shares her initial impressions of this crisis. 

Q. What did you learn about the plight of refugee children in Greece?

A. An estimated 22,000 refugee children are stranded in Greece, and around 2,000 of them are unaccompanied by an adult. Some of the unaccompanied children were separated from a parent somewhere along the journey, but many of them actually started on this route on their own. According to EKKA, which is the National Center for Social Solidarity in Greece, over 90 percent of unaccompanied children are adolescent boys between the ages of 14 and 17. Many of them are from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and countries in North Africa. More recently, Syrian boys have been traveling on their own.

Q. What efforts are made to identify and protect these children?

A. It’s important to note that the refugee situation in Greece is changing on a daily basis. But when I was in Lesvos in March, it was actually a Frontex border officer and a police officer who determined if the child was under 18 at the time of registration. They didn’t have any training in age assessment and weren’t using any standard process. Children were often claiming to be over 18 so they didn’t get stuck in the child protection system in Greece. They wanted to continue on to Germany, Sweden, or other destinations.

Children were detained until the social services agency in Greece placed them in a shelter for unaccompanied minors in mainland Greece. The Greek government was calling it “protective custody,” but it was definitely detention. I went to the camp in Lesvos where children were confined to a small area with this tall barbed wire fence around it. They were not able to freely walk around the camp. NGOs were raising a lot of concerns—that girls and boys were being housed together, that these areas had no oversight or management, and that they didn’t have sufficient access to psychosocial support services.


“Unaccompanied children are worse off since the formal closure of the Balkans route. Now all the shelters are full because children are no longer leaving to cross borders. When I was there in the Spring, there was a list of over 200 unaccompanied minors waiting for shelter beds. So even though they are being identified, there’s literally nowhere to place them now.”


Q. What is the strategy for protecting refugee children?

A. Before the borders closed in April, approximately 80 percent of the kids were running away from these shelters for unaccompanied children within two or three days. They just wanted to continue on the migration path. There was a lot of debate among child protection providers about whether they should even be helping the children to register as unaccompanied. Some felt that you couldn’t just send children off on the Balkans route where they would be exposed to trafficking and other kinds of exploitation or abuse. Other providers felt that when you put them in the Greek shelter system, you separated them from their peer group—literally their only form of social support—and because they would leave anyway, this was actually putting them at risk of greater harm.

Q. What changed when the borders closed? Where are most of these children now?

A. Unaccompanied children are worse off since the formal closure of the Balkans route. Now all the shelters are full because children are no longer leaving to cross borders. When I was there in the Spring, there was a list of over 200 unaccompanied minors waiting for shelter beds. So even though they are being identified, there’s literally nowhere to place them now. They’re staying for longer periods of time in detention centers and police facilities. They’re in overcrowded camps with the general population. Many of them are on the streets, near Piraeus Port in Athens, Victoria Square and the surrounding area, and other parts of the city. Having been stranded in Greece for months, many of these children are running out of money and are increasingly vulnerable to exploitation and survival sex. And with only illegal options to continue to their migration, they’re also increasingly vulnerable to trafficking and more dangerous smuggling routes.

Q. What did you learn about risks of sexual and gender-based violence faced by refugees in Greece?

A. We heard a lot about rape and sexual assault by smugglers, by border authorities, and police officers, while people are in transit—particularly in Turkey. We heard a lot about sexual exploitation. Some people run out of money or robbed along the way and end up exchanging sex to continue to cross borders. There were a lot of concerns about young boys from Afghanistan and Pakistan, that they were being sexually exploited in some of the parks in Athens.

We also heard from service providers that there had been more reports of domestic and sexual violence in the camps once people became stranded and were staying for weeks instead of days. I spent one day in Eleonas, a refugee camp in Athens, and just during that time, we heard about four cases of domestic violence. One of them was a pregnant woman. It was a really urgent case. She wanted to be transferred to a safe shelter. They couldn’t find a place for her.

Q. Are we protecting refugees of all ages from sexual violence in the camps?

A. Sexual- and gender-based violence has been one of the most neglected aspects of this humanitarian response. The UN IASC guidelines for addressing GBV in humanitarian settings state that you should assume that gender-based violence is happening in crisis settings, regardless of the availability of data. Gender-based violence services are considered life-saving services and should be put in place at the earliest stages of humanitarian response. When I was there in March, there was very little in place for survivors who come forward. Even basic medical services for sexual assault, such as post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV, weren’t available in most of the camp areas.

After a year of virtually no action, there is finally acknowledgement that SGBV is happening, and that prevention and response measures must be put in place. We’ve learned about recent progress in this area—there are now gender-based violence sub-working groups in every region, more NGOs planning GBV-related activities, and dialogue about how to respond is taking place. Hopefully soon this will be soon be accompanied by actual services.

Q. Is Greece up to this challenge?

The emergency has really shed light on these huge gaps in Greece’s own public systems. Service providers talked a lot about how services were cut back in the economic crisis. There are more than 50,000 refugees still stranded in Greece. So when we talk about sustainability and linking refugees to mainstream health and social services, this is a huge challenge. The systems were already strained before the refugee crisis. We met with some Greek NGOs that are doing some amazing work with unaccompanied and separated refugee youth—providing shelter, family reunification, and integration services—but the need is huge and capacity is limited.

Since Greece has transitioned from a transit country to a protracted refugee situation, and as new camps continue to be established, it’s critical to make sure GBV prevention and protection measures are part of the planning.