Behind the scenes: storytelling, transparency and child protection | ActionAid UK

Helen Pattinson

Deputy Director of Fundraising

You may have seen ActionAid’s latest Not This Girl appeal to help keep girls safe from sexual exploitation and abuse. Throughout the appeal, supported by UK Aid Match, we will be sharing stories of women and girls who have survived violence.

Watch our behind the scenes video and read on below to find out how we balance authentic storytelling with protecting survivors.

The importance of storytelling that protects survivors

One of the most important things about ActionAid is our authenticity. We are working directly in some of the poorest communities in the world and it has always been very important to us to make sure our supporters hear the real voices of people in those communities. They have remarkable stories – of courage, resilience and determination.

But with the difficult context of girls who have experienced rape and sexual assault, we have to consider how to tell those stories in a way that protects the survivor. This is particularly important now so many people all over the world have mobile phones and access to the internet. These stories could be seen anywhere – including by the men who have perpetrated these crimes. We would never want to expose a girl who has shared her story to any more harm.

Meet Jenny, an aspiring film star

While I was filming for the appeal in Kenya, I asked the women I met about how to get around the problem of needing to help people in the UK identify with a girl, without putting a girl at risk. They introduced me to Jenny (we have changed her name) who is 11. To represent girls’ experiences through images and videos, Jenny helped us depict the hardest-hitting scenes as a child actress.

Jenny, child actress for Not This Girl, ActionAid UK

Jenny’s mum, Alice, is a Gender Defender – women who work with ActionAid to prevent violence in their community. Jenny is very aware of why this work is needed. Some of Jenny’s friends have experienced sexual violence themselves.

Jenny is a bright, lively, intelligent girl who speaks very good English. As an aspiring film star, she was delighted to help! She met the crew, and we explained the few actions we’d ask her to do, to help us tell the stories of other girls – all based on real stories we heard directly from girls themselves.

So, where you see a girl running away from danger, or texting ‘help’ to the SMS helpline that ActionAid runs, this is Jenny. She seemed to really enjoy the filming and her aunt told me she was happy to help us, so more people are aware of the violence girls in her community face every day.

Jenny is Alice's daughter who lives with her in Mukuru. Jenny has not been personally affected by GBV.

How we protect the identity of survivors and girls at risk

With a sensitive subject like rape and sexual assault, in many of the images you see, girls will have been anonymised. The girl may have covered her eyes or face with her hands, or we haven’t shown you her face – just her hands or her feet. We want people to be able to identify with a real person, but without being able to fully identify her.

In some other cases, you may see pictures of girls. These girls are at risk of sexual violence because of where they live or their situation. With the parents’ consent we have shown you their faces but have changed their names, to help protect their anonymity.

For any campaign, ActionAid takes child protection very seriously. This includes ensuring that all the girls we photograph and film are supported in telling their story, they have emotional support and they fully understand how their story will be used. We also request the consent of a parent or guardian for anyone under 18.

Esther, 7, with ActionAid's Joyce Kambi, Kilifi County.

Our commitment to sharing women’s and girls’ real stories

At ActionAid, we think it’s essential to share the horrific violence that so many girls experience. It helps to educate us, to make us realise the very difficult circumstances that girls face every day. And by showing the amazing women on the frontline who ActionAid support to prevent and respond to violence, many people are inspired to give their support.

We have strived to do this in a way that protects the girls we work with and ensures their dignity. It’s a hard balance – and we want to continue to challenge ourselves to do the very best we can in this area.

Donate today

By donating to our appeal today, your gift will be doubled by the UK government, helping us support even more girls, like Jenny’s friends from Kenya. Please donate today and help support courageous women to continue challenging violence and say ‘Not this girl. Not any girl.’

Donate today

Photos: Sheldon Moultrie/ActionAid