Worldwide, at least one in three women has experienced some form of sexual violence.  

It is a traumatic experience for the individual, and some victims are subjected to both sexual and physical violence. The result is short and long-term consequences for a woman's physical, mental, and sexual and reproductive health, affecting her capacity to be an active member in society. 

MSF and the care for victims of sexual violence

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical teams treated over 11,000 victims of sexual violence in 91 projects, in 29 countries, in 2014. Over 90 per cent of them were women and girls; less than 10 per cent were men and boys. More than two-thirds of our sexual violence patients come from three countries: Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Zimbabwe. The majority of victims are under 18 years of age.Our assistance to victims of sexual violence starts with free and confidential medical and psychological care.

In many of the settings where we work, there is limited similar assistance. Our purpose is to alleviate victims’ suffering and support their recovery and resumption of daily life. We are committed to incorporating sexual violence services in all our women’s health projects, and to increasing provision of sexual violence care in emergency response.

For example, we achieved this across all our projects in conflict-affected Central African Republic in 2014. We are also committed to getting care closer to the population, by training nurses in smaller health centres to be able to provide first-line treatment, including psychological first aid.

The evidence strongly suggests that sexual violence exists in all of the contexts where MSF works. If we do not see victims in our clinics, it does not mean that they do not exist; it just means they are not coming forward. There can be many barriers to seeking care, but we know that community outreach is extremely important to make our services known to the community, and to break the vice-like grip of stigma.

Only with community outreach, and practical means for victims to reach the services, can sexual violence care be effective and efficient. MSF also offers short-term social support as a bridge to longer-term services by other actors, where available. We are committed to advocacy for more sexual violence services, targeting lay and medical community leaders, ministries of health, other national authorities, and other aid organisations. MSF has also identified significant gaps in protection services in many of its settings, and is calling for this to be urgently addressed.

International Women's Day 2016: Sexual violence as a weapon of war in South Sudan

Jaime Wah is a Canadian nurse who has worked overseas with MSF in conflict situations from Central African Republic to Democratic Republic of Congo, delivering medical care to people in need. She recently returned from South Sudan, where she worked at the MSF hospital in the United Nations' Protection of Civilians camp in Bentiu, which is home to more than 100,000 people who have been displaced by the country's violent and ongoing civil war. In the video above, she describes how armed fighters use sexual assault as a weapon, putting the health and lives of already vulnerable women already at even greater risk.

International Women's Day 2016: A Canadian nurse on the challenges of treating sexual violence in conflict settings

Women outside the protected area of a United Nations civilian protection camp in Bentiu, South Sudan, in search firewood. Those venturing outside the confines of the camp and into the conflict zone risk violence and rape at the hands of armed men.

Mariko Miller works with rape and sexual violence survivors in Vancouver. She recently returned from Bentiu, South Sudan, where she helped MSF deliver care to people displaced by conflict and violence — and saw first-hand the challenges of treating victims of sexual violence in a context where rape and assault are used as weapons of war.

International Women's Day 2016: Breaking Down the Barriers to Sexual Violence Care

Our colleagues at MSF Australia prepared a special web package outlining the role played by Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) when it comes to treating victims of sexual violence in different contexts around the world:

Return to Abuser: New MSF report reveals cycle of abuse for survivors of family and sexual violence in Papua New Guinea

new report from Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) uncovers the gaps in services and systems trapping women and children in cycles of severe family and sexual violence in Papua New Guinea.

Return to Abuser details how a dire lack of protection mechanisms, a weak justice system and a culture of impunity endanger the health and lives of patients, even when they manage to reach medical care. The report includes comprehensive data from more than 3,000 survivors of family and sexual violence treated by MSF in 2014-15 in its two projects, one in rural Tari, in Hela Province, and the other in the capital city of Port Moresby. It reveals the repeated and often escalating violence that women and children endure in the places where they should be safest: in their homes and communities.