Edu Ponces/RUIDO Photo
Community outreach, backed up by quality of care, is the key to ensuring victims of sexual violence get the help they need. Once a sexual violence project is established, the next step is to spread the message that free and confidential services are available, and how to access them. We also focus on the value of seeking care as soon as possible—72 hours being the window for the most effective medical care.
Establishing links with the broader community means we can work as partners in raising awareness, reducing stigma, and mobilising support for victims. Lay community groups, healthcare networks, police and other authorities are all important actors in understanding sexual violence and ensuring that victims receive appropriate care. Thanks to community-wide support in Mathare, Kenya, for example, many victims are referred to the clinic by police or community leaders.
As you’ll discover via the updates below, from booklets to radio interviews, school presentations to street theatre, MSF’s teams are highly active in delivering positive messages to break down the barriers to care.
A door-to-door campaign was instrumental in bringing a young victim forward in Harare, Zimbabwe, as Juliana Nhamburo, Nurse Counsellor within Médecins Sans Frontières’ Mbare project, explains.
“I remember the story of a girl who was sexually abused by her father for a long time from when she was younger, but could not disclose the abuse to anyone because of the threats that she was receiving from him.
She only managed to share her story when MSF conducted a ‘door-to-door campaign’ to educate community members about sexual violence and the importance of seeking medical treatment within 72 hours when one is sexually abused.
Although the victim missed the emergency treatment within the stipulated timeframe, she was able to receive psychosocial support and was assisted to get temporary shelter in a safer place while pursuing her case with the courts.
Our teams try and assist the victims by providing medical examination where necessary, providing medical treatment according to protocols, providing a medical certificate and when requested, giving expert evidence in courts and attending to their needs. We also provide psychosocial support through counselling services. This process helps them to heal and recover from their traumatic experience.
Some victims are rejected by their family, husband, and friends when they share their experience. Because of this, some women just suffer in silence. Victims of sexual violence need to be supported in every way possible.”
Radio is hugely popular
Guillaume Le Duc/MSF
In Port Harcourt, Nigeria, three radio stations are helping to promote the availability of sexual violence care, and deliver a set of key messages that MSF’s team has devised. Sexual violence remains confronting subject matter, but Mental Health Activity Manager Clare Brennan helped break the ice when she went live on air.
“The radio interviews were interactive and really fun to participate in. I have a pretty distinct New Zealand accent, so there was usually some friendly banter with the radio hosts and a chance for my ‘pidgin English’ to be scrutinised as a way to engage listeners. The radio is hugely popular in Nigeria. It is a way to disseminate information to millions of people ‘sharp, sharp’ (quickly).
“The radio hosts were eager to understand sexual violence, and with a different topic each week we did a pretty good job of covering the various aspects. There was opportunities for the listeners to call or text in and ask questions pertaining to the topic, or to share their own experiences. These live testimonies evoked pretty raw reactions from the hosts. There is a shock factor with the stories to say the least. They evoke a plethora of emotions. The thing about the radio is that you are ‘live’ and once you have said something, you can’t take it back!
“Our nurses and doctors managed the interviews confidently and tactfully answered questions from the hosts and the public. We are confident that the radio is a significant contributor to community sensitisation regarding sexual violence.”
“Fight The Stigma”
In Port Harcourt, Nigeria, ongoing awareness-raising is bolstered by more intense campaigns, such as a University drive last September, at the beginning of the scholastic year.
Medical Team Leader Kiera Sargeant and Mental Health Activity Manager Clare Brennan were both involved in the outreach campaign.
”At the universities we did presentations to different faculties and distributed posters and flyers, as well as meeting with the health clinics on campus. There are high numbers of students attending tertiary institutions in Port Harcourt. Female students are particularly vulnerable and often targets of sexual violence. Our team has been proactive in identifying the various student bodies and then making the contact and building the relationships to disseminate the information.
We also liaised with the police stations close to campus, distributing posters and pamphlets to all, and giving talks to the officers. It was satisfying to see the results of the campaign, when we started to receive sexual violence victims from various universities and police stations. Awareness-raising like this not only encourages people to seek health care, it also helps the fight against the stigma attached to sexual violence.
One 20 year-old female student was in her university hostel when a group of boys came into the house with guns and told her that they didn’t want anything from her, they just wanted to rape her and if she refused, they would shoot her. Thanks to posters that had been put on campus she learned about the Médecins Sans Frontières clinic and came to seek treatment.”
Outreach in Harare
According to the Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey (2010-2011), 43 per cent of women reported that they have experienced physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives. MSF Coordinator, An Vandeborne, explains how MSF has adapted its outreach activities in the capital of Harare.
MSF has a health promotion team which carries out educational activities to increase awareness of the benefits of prompt medical care after sexual violence. Before 2012, survivors of sexual violence were obliged to report the matter to the police first before seeking any medical care, because without the report they could not get any help. Although the law has changed, about 90 per cent of survivors still come through the police.
Some survivors are not comfortable to go to the police because in most cases, the perpetrators are people they know: it could be a relative, a family member or employer. The perpetrator may be someone who is relied on by the survivor, who usually does not have an alternative support system to turn to. Survivors also don’t want to report if they see the perpetrator as their boyfriend. In Zimbabwe, rape is a crime which can attract up to a lifetime imprisonment, so some survivors will be afraid of the social consequences and will opt not to report.
So the team informs the community members that if a person experiences sexual violence, they can go straight to the clinic to seek medical assistance without going to the police first.”
By going out into the community and spreading the word about the services available, MSF wants to encourage more victims to seek free medical and psychological care as soon as possible after their assault. In any society there are diverse entry points for raising awareness, as the activities in Mbare show.
“We conduct ongoing awareness-raising in the print and electronic media. We run community training workshops targeting village health workers, victim-friendly unit officers, community leaders and teachers in Mbare. We take advantage of commemorations like World AIDS Day, and 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, and even exhibitions like the Zimbabwe Agricultural Show.”