Home > Staff > Research affiliates


Gray Aschman — Research Affiliate
BA Cape Town, BSocSc (Hons) Cape Town, MSc Oxford
Gray Aschman Gray started working at the Unit in 2008, after completing her Honours degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice at UCT. In 2009, she took a year off to read for her MSc in Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Oxford, where she wrote her thesis on the growth of Chinese organised crime in South Africa. She returned to the Unit in 2010 to work on a range of projects, including research on the provision of health care services to rape survivors and South African women's pathways to prison. Recently, she has focused on developing a set of monitoring tools to prevent torture and other ill treatment in places of detention. Her research interests include the protection of detainees' and prisoners' rights, improving the response to gender-based violence, and looking at ways of changing societal attitudes towards gender and gender-based violence.
 Jeanne Flavin — Research Affiliate
B.A., Kansas; M.A., Ph.D., American University
Jeanne Flavin's research draws attention to the myriad ways in which the state enforces gendered social arrangements through its criminal justice and other formal policies and practices.  She documents how the system’s responses to battered women, incarcerated women, and women who are addicted to drugs restrict some women’s rights to conceive, to be pregnant, and to bring up their children.  She proudly chairs the board of directors for National Advocates for Pregnant Women, which advocates for the social and civil rights of all women, but especially low-income women who are pregnant and parenting.  In 2009, Jeanne received a Fulbright Award to study  women's pathways to prison in South Africa.
Swantje Tiedemann--Research Affiliate
MA Social Anthropology, University of Hamburg
Swantje holds a Master Degree in social anthropology from the University in Hamburg, Germany. Her dissertation focused on long-distance nationalism in Diasporas. After graduating she has been working in different research projects and NGOs in South Africa and Germany. Her main fields of experience are gender, violence against women and migration. Swantje first started interning at the Gender Health and Justice Research Unit in 2012 and has since then been involved in different projects at the unit. Her research interests include the living situation of refugees, particularly of women.
Estian Smit – Research Affiliate
BA (Philosophy and Classical Culture), BA Hons (Philosophy), MA (Philosophy), Stellenbosch University
Estian is a transgender activist, independent scholar and gender and bodily diversity consultant. They played a central role in parliamentary lobbying involving South Africa’s gender recognition law (Alteration of Sex Description and Sex Status Act No. 49 of 2003) and have been involved in ongoing law and policy reform efforts towards greater protection and realisation of transgender and intersex rights. Over the past decade, they have worked as staff member, consultant and/or volunteer to South African transgender and intersex organisations, and have co-authored submissions to Parliament, as well as trans and intersex shadow reports to the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) and various United Nations committees. Estian holds a Master’s degree in Philosophy from Stellenbosch University and has also pursued postgraduate studies on transgender and intersex rights in relation to medico-legal and psychiatric discourses at the University of the Western Cape. Their interests include the provision of gender affirming healthcare within a human rights, social justice and wellbeing framework; depathologisation of gender and bodily diversity in international diagnostic manuals and healthcare settings; development of national gender affirming healthcare guidelines and practices in collaboration with transgender persons; and legal gender recognition for transgender, gender diverse and intersex persons on the basis of the rights to self-identification, bodily integrity and bodily autonomy. They are also passionate about sharing knowledge and building research networks, and committed to research that is open access, participatory and accountable to research participants.
Assoc Prof Alex Muller — Associate Pofessor
Dr med Georg-August University Gottingen, Germany
Alex trained as a medical doctor and medical sociologist at the University of Gottingen, Germany. She is interested in employing social science theory to understand health challenges and health and criminal justice system responses, particularly around gender (identity) and sexual orientation. Her recent publications focus on improving access to healthcare for sexual and gender minority individuals and developing competency frameworks around sexual orientation and gender identity for health professions education. She currently leads the first-ever regional research project to assess the prevalence of mental health concerns among sexual and gender minority populations in Southern and East Africa, a collaborative project with over 20 NGOs from 12 countries. Other projects of hers include analyses of the law and policy frameworks governing adolescent sexual and reproductive health in Southern Africa, investigations into the provision of gender-affirming care for transgender individuals in South Africa, and a comparative analysis of how LGBTI health-related topics are taught in health professions education in South Africa and Malawi. Alex has worked as a technical consultant to the Ministry of Health of Swaziland and the World Health Organisation, and currently works with the South African National AIDS Council and the World Psychiatric Association to develop competency guidelines for healthcare professionals on sex, sexual and gender diversity.
Follow Alex on ResearchGate.
Talia Meer — Researcher
BA (Hons) KwaZulu Natal; MA Dalhousie University Halifax
Talia Meer completed a BA in Political Science at the University of KwaZulu Natal in 2007, and an MA in Development Studies at Dalhousie University, Canada in 2010. She began working as a researcher at the GHJRU in 2011. Her central research interests centre on identity, intersectionality and violence. Her work at the Unit primarily involves public health and criminal justice responses to survivors of gender-based violence, including survivors with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities; and gender, sexuality and gender-based violence education for adults and teenagers. She is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in Sociology focusing on gendered experiences of urban public space. 
Follow Talia on ResearchGate.

Dr Helen Liebling-Research Associate


PhD Women and Gender, University of Warwick; M.Phil. Clinical Psychology, Edinburgh University, M.Sc. Forensic Behavioural Science, Liverpool University, BSc (Hons) 2:1 Psychology, Swansea University RGN, Registered General Nurse, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham

Helen Liebling’s research investigates health and justice service responses for conflict survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and torture in Africa including refugees in Africa and the United Kingdom. Helen has worked in collaboration with African organisations in Northern Uganda, Liberia, Eastern DRC, Rwanda, and South Africa. Helen carries our collaborative research at GHJRU and has given talks on her research at UCT during sabbaticals. Following collaborative research with South Sudanese refugee survivors of SGBV and torture with GHJRU (Liebling, Barrett & Artz, 2020a; 2020b), UNHCR cited social enterprises established with refugees by the research team as a model of good practice in their global compact for refugees: Social-Enterprise Groups for South Sudanese Refugee Survivors | The Global Compact on Refugees | Digital platform (

Helen is the Clinical Lead for Refugee Well-Being Services in Coventry and works as an Assistant Professor at Coventry & Warwick Universities. She is proud to be a member of the Tearfund/SVRI steering group on the involvement of Faith-Based Organisations in the prevention of SGBV. Helen is also an invited member of the Healing in Harmony advisory group that evaluated the impact of music with women conflict survivors of SGBV in Eastern DRC. Helen was recently invited together with Last Mafuba, Refugee Expert by Experience and Director of Inini, by Network for Dialogue to assist to write policy documents for supporting refugees including one entitled: Supporting Teachers in the Use of Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue in Inclusive Education for Refugee’s N4D-PolicyBriefs-01-Education-Final.pdf (


Dr. Mahlogonolo Thobane 

Dr Thobane is a Senior Research Consultant at the Unit. Dr. Thobane permanently employed by College of Law, Department of Criminology and Security Science at the University of South Africa (UNISA) as a Senior Lecturer. She holds a Bachelor of Social Sciences: Psychology degree from the University of Pretoria (UP); BA (Honours) degrees in Criminology and Psychology from UP and UNISA respectively. She also holds a Master’s degree in Criminology as well as a Doctor of Literature and Philosophy (DLitt et Phil) in Criminology.

She is the first black President of the Criminological Society of Africa (CRIMSA), the only society for Criminologists and Criminal Justice professionals in South Africa; and other African countries. In 2018, Dr. Thobane was awarded the UNISA Vision Keepers Prize (2018-2020) for the research project titled: An exploration of the impact of sociocultural norms on the surge of gender-based violence in South Africa. In July 2019, the GHJRU contracted her a Senior Researcher Consultant position for a 5-year Local Responses to Improve Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Project led by the Centre for Communication Impact (CCI) and funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). This came on the back of her Vision Keepers project. Dr. Thobane is one of the 10 young international Criminologists who won a research paper award, sponsored by the International Society of Criminology (ISC) as well as the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNDOC), at the 2019 International Congress of Criminology. 

Her research aims to centralise the African voice, and ‘ways of knowing’, in criminology ideologies. Her research interests are bank related violent crimes (i.e., cash-in-transit heists), gender-based violence, female criminality, critical criminology, indigenous research methods and correctional studies. Given her interest in gender based violence issues, she founded a Non-Profit Organisation, Mu Duka (212-833 NPO) in 2018, which promotes holistic and intersectoral approaches (involving various government departments, the private sector and non-government organisations) to combat the scourge of gender based violence in South Africa.