Q&A Interview With Jackie Branfield: Founder and Director of Operation Bobbi Bear.
Operation Bobbi Bear is rebuilding the justice system for children in South Africa who have been abused so they can gain access to treatment, recovery, and care. Operation Bobbi Bear acts as a filter between police and children who have been assaulted. Children who report abuse are taken to a safe, comfortable place, rather than an intimidating environment, where they are given a bear on which to draw. The organization’s goal is to make coming to the authorities easier for children so they are more likely report abuse within 24 hours and be treated for HIV.
What inspired the idea/concept for Bobbi Bear? And when did you start it?
Jackie Branfield: The simple answer is injustice. At that time, woman and children had no rights, and children contracting HIV/AIDS and deeply suffering from the effects of long-term physical abuse caused by the adults surrounding them. The concept of Operation Bobbi Bear began in July 2000, and by October 29, 2001, we were registered as a non-profit organization—nearly 16 years ago to date.
It must be hard to initially find out about the sexual abuse, how does Bobbi Bear usually find out?
JB: Bobbi Bear is always contacted by the Police, the schools, the community or any other place where children frequent. Our Edu-Toy—which uses puppets and stories to teach children about HIV, their bodies, the difference between a good and bad touch, and abuse—brings a huge amount of awareness in the various communities and schools, so when an adult notices behavior changes, Bobbi Bear is called out. Most children in our communities know of Bobbi Bear and will request our help if they are in any form of trouble.
What is more challenging, discovering and approaching childhood sexual abuse in first place, or effectively dealing with it?
JB: In Africa, both are equally challenging. We cannot concentrate on one without the other. The Bear is used to find out if penetration has occurred, if body fluids have exchanged and in what time period, so that PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) can be obtained within the 72 hour window period. At the same time, trying to source qualified psychologists, lawyers, appropriate hospitals, and work collaboratively with police is a huge challenge. We find ourselves deeply involved in the initial stages of contact with children, but the aftercare is just as important.
Bobbi Bear executes at least one callout per day. What exactly is a callout?
JB: There are many steps to one single callout. First, Bobbi Bear receives a call that a child is at risk of rape, abuse, abandonment or another factor. This call typically comes from the police, community, school or another organization the child is involved in. From there, a trained CSO (Child Safety Officer) will take a rape bag and a bear to the point-of- rescue. Upon arrival, the CSO will assess the situation and try to speak with the adults—who are at times extremely aggressive—to mediate a solution and take the child off the property.
The child is taken to the police station where they are placed in one of our trauma rooms. Here, the CSO offers counseling and support, and the child is encouraged to use the bear describe what happened to them. The bear is a very successful part of our work, giving us the opportunity to find out if there was penetration and what other injuries on the body occurred. In this session, the contents of the rape bag are used by the CSO. All of this happens prior to any interaction with the police, which gives the CSO the chance to offers a sense of calm and security, explaining to the child exactly what the next steps are and reassuring the child that they will be with them throughout the process.
When the policeman is called for the statement, the SCO remains with the child to help them stay calm, and also to ensure the child is not being abused a second time or intimidated by the system.
Once the statement is completed, the docket is registered and a case number is issued, which takes anywhere from 4-6 hours.
After leaving the police station, the child is taken to the district surgeon at a government-run hospital for medical evaluation. A J88 form is then completed—a key document in recording medical evidence that may be needed in order to obtain a conviction in an assault or rape case. The process of swabs, blood tests and DNA samples can be quite traumatizing for a child, but the CSO remains with them for the duration of the testing.
The entire process can be 12 to 17 hours, depending on the distance of where the child was rescued. After leaving the hospital, the child is brought back to Bobbi Bear to be cleaned up, bathed and fed. They remain with us until the perpetrator is arrested, which can be anywhere from one night to six weeks to three months. Every case is different and assessed one by one.
What has your biggest challenge with Bobbi Bear been?
JB: Our biggest challenge is funding. Bobbi Bear is an emergency rapid response unit which involves huge costs for transportation, medical expenses, food and other emergency supplies. We are an emergency place of safety, not an orphanage. The monthly costs and finances to keep us functional in all aspects of rescuing a child from rape and abuse remains a big challenge. Our time is focused on the children, which leaves little time for fundraising.
What has your biggest unexpected lesson learned with Bobbi Bear been?
JB: The most unexpected, and most devastating thing we have learned is if Bobbi Bear does not respond quickly and dramatically when called out, children are murdered. Many children in South Africa do not have birth certificates, so if they are killed, there is no way of tracking who they are.
They’re murdered to stop them from reporting the abuse.
If you could have 3 wishes for Bobbi Bear, no limitations, what would they be?
Jackie Branfield: Wish 1: To have sufficient funds for us to pay our staff the salaries they deserve and to never have to stress
about operational costs again. This would enable us to be free to focus all of our efforts on the
ground to rescue these children.
Wish 2: To have the opportunity to find the right people and resources that will help us spread Bobbi Bear
Wish 3: To train our people and all government officials to have empathy for children, especially those at
Big Thanks to Jackie for the interview and the insight into this delicate matter, and for her contributions toward combatting it. Jackie Branfield will be honored at the World of Children Awards 2017 in New York on November 2nd. For more information, visit https://worldofchildren.org/