3rd SA Violence Conference 2020


Dr Nobs Mwanda is a wife, mother, social entrepreneur and the Chief Executive Officer of Community-based Prevention and Empowerment Strategies in South Africa (COPESSA). COPESSA is a social profit organisation whose vision is to build safe, secure, and caring communities for children. She co-founded COPESSA in Soweto in 2004 after a very short stint in private medical practice. Born in rural Eastern Cape, she qualified as a medical doctor from Wits University, in
1988. She was admitted to the Paediatrics Registrar circuit in 1991, but this unfortunately coincided with the starting of her family, thus resulting in not taking up the post. This however, led to an exposure to remedial work for differently-abled children, at the then Transvaal Memorial Institute (now known as Teddy Bear Clinic), an opportunity she had never had
while training in the same institution. This opened another door and sparked an interest in working with vulnerable children, especially abused and neglected children. When an opportunity arose to open a child abuse centre under Soweto clinics, she co-founded the first community-based child abuse centre in Soweto Clinics’ Zamokuhle Child Abuse Centre, in 1995, where she worked until 2001. She had a short stint in private practice and when Baby ‘Tshepang’ was brutally raped and disembowelled, it did not take much to convince her to go back fully to community-based child abuse prevention and management, where she co-established COPESSA, in April 2004, a concept that had been brewing since 2000. Over the past 14 years she has pioneered the use of the “Ecological Model” in holistically addressing the social ill of child abuse and its social drivers, at this centre. Consequently, she has received recognition for her scholarly and community development contributions from her peers, both nationally and internationally. These include the “Dr
Prakash Vallabh Primary Health Care Research Conference” first prize in oral presentation, (1999), the much coveted and prestigious Shoprite Checkers Women of the Year Award, (2011). 

Karen is one of the leading experts internationally on crimes of sexual violence against children and other vulnerable groups, including women and people with mental disabilities. 

She has also spearheaded an interdisciplinary approach towards safeguarding children from violence through capacitating stakeholders to prevent, respond to and protect children from this violence. She is a policy developer, a legislative reviewer, an expert on specialist criminal justice models and a proponent of a multi-disciplinary system response to violence against children. 

As an example, her expertise was acknowledged when she was appointed as one of 5 international experts onto the Selection Committee of the Spotlight Initiative’s Civil Society Global Reference Group. The uniqueness of her expertise lies in her multi-disciplinary approach to violence against children – she reflects the objectives of the UN INSPIRE strategies. She works within both a psychological as well as a legal framework to address and combat the abuse and exploitation of children.  

As the CEO of the Child Witness Institute, Karen has conducted numerous research projects, has contributed to the development of legislation and developed policies, guidelines and advanced training courses on child safeguarding, sexual violence prevention and response strategies, and specialised services and models for child witnesses and other vulnerable groups. Karen conducts her work at national, regional and international level.  

Karen complements the work of the Child Witness Institute through her expertise on the psychological issues affecting child victims of sexual abuse and exploitation. She has brought forensic psychology into the specialist approach developed by Dr Muller and, as such, the Institute enshrines the doctrine of multi-disciplinary work pertaining to issues affecting child victims of violence. 

As the Chief Operating Officer of the Institute, Karen ensures the implementation of all projects undertaken by the Institute. She specifically advocates for the impact of serious crime to be recognized as a significant part of the criminal justice process and that specialised services should be made available to victims of serious crime to address this impact. 

Like Dr Muller, Karen has published widely on topics pertaining to child abuse and gender-based violence. She assists Dr Muller in the development and presentation of specialised training and qualifications that are relevant to the issues of child safeguarding, child forensics, child witnesses and complex system reform to combat violence against children.