Johanna Wilkie

Johanna Wilkie (Breaking the Wall of Silence in Windhoek): Johanna lived and worked in Rome, Italy for two years teaching English as a Second Language (ESL). After her return to hometown of Boston, she taught immigrants and college students ESL for two years before moving to Los Angeles to work as a program manager at a California non-profit. At the time of her fellowship, Johanna was studying for a Masters degree in international affairs and development at Georgetown University, and working toward a Certificate in Refugees and Humanitarian Emergencies. She also interned at the International Rescue Committee as an Africa Advocacy Intern.

A Veteran of the Women and Child Protection Unit

24 Jul

The Namibian Police Force has several “units” or divisions.  The one that specifically works with cases of domestic violence or abuse is the Women and Child Protection Unit (WCPU).  There are WCPU offices in various cities and towns all over the country, and it is here that people can report abuse, receive counseling or medical examinations, and even receive temporary shelter if needed.  There is some debate about how welcoming or well-equipped some of these WCPUs are, and I hope to visit one soon to get a better picture of what happens there.

In the meantime, I spoke with a police detective who worked in a WCPU for 11 years (she asked me not to use her name in this blog).   When I asked her about domestic violence cases involving guns, she told me the story of a woman whose abuser used to clean his gun in front of her, or sleep with his gun under his pillow, when he wanted to intimidate her.

I asked her how it was for her personally, to do this work for so long.  She immediately responded that it was “emotionally draining” and that it had had a “huge impact” on her and her marriage.  In the year or so since she left that position and started doing general detective duties, she said, her husband has noticed big changes in her; specifically, he said that she has been much more relaxed since leaving the WCPU.  This despite the fact that she voluntarily participated in group therapy with the other staff of the WCPU while she was there.

This last part of the conversation was of particular interest to me as I have been thinking about the impact of the work I am doing here on my own mental and emotional well-being.  There is no doubt that reading page after page of horrific stories of rape, assault, and murder is disturbing, and hearing the stories directly even more so.  However, it does sometimes feel a little overly indulgent, even selfish, to worry about myself when I am not suffering directly.  The women I am reading about and meeting are the ones who are really going through difficult times.  Recently though, I have been receiving some reminders that I should take care of myself, and not just from this police detective.  Yesterday I met a woman who is doing her Ph.D. research on domestic violence here, and she warned me that I must make sure I have support, and that I should take time to relax and enjoy life.  “Believe me,” she said, “I know.”  Both of these conversations serve as a reminder that violence is far-reaching, and affects not only the victims, but also their caretakers and advocates.

Don’t worry, friends and family, I am taking care of myself!  I have the weekend to take a time out.  I just wish it was possible for the victims of these crimes to have the same opportunity.

Posted By Johanna Wilkie

Posted Jul 24th, 2009

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