For Immediate Release
Doctors Without Borders Releases Sexual Violence Report
Emergency Medical Aid Vital for Victims of Rape
Johannesburg/Brussels/New York - Ahead of International Women’s Day, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins
Sans Frontières (MSF) today released a report summarizing the
organization’s experience in assisting victims of sexual violence.
Based on MSF’s work in Liberia, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of
Congo (DRC), South Africa, Colombia, and other countries, the report,
titled “Shattered Lives,” highlights the need for emergency medical
care to be made available to people who have been raped. MSF also
stresses that such services need to be truly accessible, with
guarantees for confidentiality and an offer of comprehensive care.
“In 2007, our teams treated well over 12,000 victims of sexual
assault worldwide, in both conflict settings and stable environments,”
said Meinie Nicolai, MSF operational director in Brussels. “That is
about 35 people every day, in MSF projects alone. Each tells a story of
horror, pain and degradation, often inflicted by the very people who
should provide protection, such as fathers, uncles, neighbors, or
soldiers. And all of the victims are at risk from serious long-term
health consequences as a result of the assault,” she said.
Post-exposure prophylaxis to prevent HIV-infection is crucial in the
offer of medical care; the course of medication needs to be initiated
as quickly as possible, and definitely within 72 hours, in order to be
effective. Treatment for other sexually transmitted infections, such as
Hepatitis-B, must also be included. For those physically injured during
assaults, tetanus injections are required. Emergency contraception is
possible up to five days after forced intercourse, to prevent unwanted
“We find that the specific emergency care needed for victims of rape
is either very rare or completely absent in the countries where we
operate,” said Thilde Knudsen, MSF’s sexual and reproductive health
advisor. “The damage cannot be completely undone; some level of
psychological impact is likely to remain for life. But with the right
package of timely medical care, coupled with trauma counseling and
social and legal support, the damage can be limited and the victim
helped to survive.”
Caring for victims of sexual violence requires a specific approach
from a variety of different actors. A coordinated response between
organizations involved in medical, legal, and social support is the
best way to bring relief to those who experience the trauma of rape and
other sexual violence.
One of the difficulties MSF describes is ensuring that people come
forward for care, and that they do so quickly enough. Integrating
medical services for victims of sexual violence in general health care
can help guarantee confidentiality. But even then, often an aggressive
campaign for awareness-raising is needed for breaking through social
taboos and advertising the health services.
The report includes a chapter on male victims. Men and boys make up
a small minority of the people seen by MSF in its sexual violence
projects (around six percent in the projects in Khayelitsha, South
Africa, and Masisi, DRC). The taboos for seeking help are usually even
greater for them than they are already for women and girls. Generally
boys and men go unrecognized and untreated.
“This report stems from our urgent desire to share our experiences
with health workers and aid agencies worldwide, for the benefit of all
victims of sexual violence,” said Meinie Nicolai. “But the report is
equally based on outrage. Our teams hear painful stories of horrible
abuse every day. We feel compelled to speak about this. There can be no
excuse for sexual violence, no matter how prevalent these violations
may be in some of the places where we work.”
Related photographs and video footage are available upon request.
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Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is an international medical humanitarian organization created by doctors and journalists in France in 1971. MSF's work is based on the humanitarian principles of medical ethics and impartiality. The organization is committed to bringing quality medical care to people caught in crisis regardless of race, religion, or political affiliation.
MSF operates independently of any political, military, or religious agendas.