Cape Town conference addresses lack of care for victims of sexual and gender-based violence

A Sexual Violence Research Initiative (SVRI) conference is taking place in Cape Town this week, during which international medical humanitarian organisation Doctors Without Borders (MSF) will presenting findings of its study into the lack of provision of mental healthcare to victims of sexual violence.
The conference is the world’s largest gathering of thought leaders on issues of sexual and gender-based violence. This year’s theme focuses on research, working to understand and redress inequity among vulnerable populations to ensure no-one is left behind; research on violence against women and linkages to violence against children.
It convenes over 5,000 researchers from 65 countries to discuss ways to mitigate the impact of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). MSF has been providing medical, psychological and social care to victims of SGBV since 2015 after a cross-sectional survey found that one in four women had experienced rape in their lifetime.
MSF has been working to identify gaps in care to SGBV victims. Their study ‘Untreated violence: critical gaps in mental health care for survivors of sexual violence in South Africa’ reveals that currently there is no comprehensive care, e.g. social or mental healthcare, available to survivors.
This indicates the urgent need for policymakers to focus their attention on strengthening the need for comprehensive care for victims of SGBV.
Key findings
• 20.5% of facilities do not offer the minimum mental health service through trauma counselling of victims of sexual violence;
• 45% offer no counselling services for children;
• 39% do no suicide risk assessments;
• 33% offer no counselling to patients for past instances of sexual violence;
• 42% offer no mental health services for victims of intimate partner violence.
Access to mental health services after rape should not be a lottery for survivors. The severe psychological consequences that can result from rape could be prevented or reduced with access to the right care.
As a means to address the gaps that exist for SGBV survivors, MSF has supported clinics through providing comprehensive care. Most of these facilities are integrated into existing Community Health Centres and called Kgomotso Care Centres (KCCs) - Kgomotso being Setswana for ‘place of comfort’.
MSF currently supports four government KCCs, in which 1,821 survivors of SGBV have received a mental health consultation since 2016.
All staff working in the KCCs are trained as first-responders to SGBV cases, including MSF drivers, who frequently pick clients up and transport them to KCCs. Clients are requested to return for a medical and psychosocial follow-up assessment one week later if needed and high risk cases are referred to a district psychologist or psychiatrist.
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