Innovation Q&A: Health-e’s Kim Harrisberg

Can a ‘mobile’ conversations give rape survivors a voice? Incorporating civic tech into a media campaign in South Africa could change the way media covers rape and influence how sexual violence health services

Izwi Lami is a civic tech project of health news agency Health-e. Using responsive text (SMS) to start conversations with rape survivors, Izwi Lami — which means “my voice” — is hoping to change the news narrative around reporting on sexual violence by using tech to amplify survivors’ voices. The SMSes also direct survivors to counselling services in their area and invite them to add their names to a petition campaign that calls for the provision of essential care packages at clinics and hospitals. We spoke to multimedia journalist Kim Harrisberg about the campaign, the tech tools they used and lessons they have learnt.

Q. Tell us about the roots and aims of the Izwi Lami campaign

Health-e has existed for 18 years, and has been covering sexual violence and gender-based violence for many many years. This campaign started as a means to address the sexual violence crisis in South Africa. Our staff imagined how we could address this issue through an innovation lens, one that could tackle the normalisation of rape culture, by engaging with survivors — so that they are not only being spoken “about”, but can come into the conversation. This fits into the concept of service journalism or journalism that provides tools. We also believe that it helps combat reader fatigue on the topic.

We had three specific aims for the campaign:

1. To provide a space for survivors to share their testimony. We’ve had examples like one survivor who said they were raped 30 years ago but have never had a space to talk about it before. We wanted survivors to feel less alone.

2. To direct survivors towards Thuthuzela centres and counselling services in their provinces. For this, we contacted all the Thuthuzela centres first to check capacity, and we only refer survivors to the ones that indicated ability to handle the new stream. We realised the responsibility of referring survivors to a place that is able to assist.

3. To direct survivors towards the petition that we set up with that is calling for packages of care to be distributed to all 25 health facilities. The package of care cover the basics that a rape survivor should be given including the “morning-after pill”, antiretrovirals, counselling and various antibiotics.

This final aim was influenced by our own goals and purpose. Because we are a health news agency, we wanted to look at it through the health lens. We had considered other options, such as directing survivors to the sexual offences court, but we decided to focus on the basics of the health care they need after rape.

A lot of this was inspired by a report from MSF looking at a clinic in Rustenburg where they found that a large portion of abortions from the clinic were terminating pregnancies that occurred as a result of rape. This showed that too many survivors were not getting the health interventions they needed. Many women didn’t even know that they were entitled to these things. So, we also designed posters for the clinics that gave details of the kinds of care survivors are entitled to receive. We have citizen journalists around the country and they have helped us distribute these to clinics and hospitals.

We have used extracts of the testimonies on social media and in news pieces (with permission from the survivors, of course). This was important for us to show other survivors that they are not alone. We also wanted to humanise the rape statistics. These aren’t just numbers, but people. We are not saying this is a perfect model, but it has prompted us to analyse our role as journalists in SA, and how we partner with other organisations and use tech to do so.

Event Blog published on Medium, click link below

Innovation Q&A: Health-e’s Kim Harrisberg

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