Implementation of Protocols to respond to Sexual Assault- Experiences from the field

Authors : Rege, Sangeeta; Sana Contractor

Published Year: 2009

"Proceedings of the International conference on gender-based violence and sexual and reproductive health, organized jointly by the National Institute for Research in Reproductive Health, UNDP/UNFPA/WHO/World Bank special programme of research, development and research training in human reproduction, World Health Organization and Indian Society for the study of reproductive and fertility, Mumbai, India 15-18 February 2009. February 15-18, 2009, Mumbai

This study provides an insight into our experiences of implementing the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence collection Kit (SAFE Kit), a comprehensive protocol for evidence collection developed by Centre for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes (CEHAT), for one year in two public hospitals in Mumbai, India. A protocol was implemented for evidence collection for cases of sexual assault accompanied by sensitization and capacity building of health professionals on the issue of sexual violence. Support services were also provided to the victims. The handling of victims of sexual assault in these hospitals was documented and several gaps in relation to obtaining consent, recording of history, preserving confidentiality of victims and provision of care were noticed even after comprehensive protocol had been implemented. The introduction of protocols ensured meticulous collection of medico-legal evidence and health care providers were enthusiastic about implementing them. However, the response was far from adequate when it came to providing the victim with holistic care, despite the fact that sensitization training had taken place along with implementation . of the protocol. The forensic role of health care providers took precedence in cases of sexual assault; therefore the aspect of care took a back seat. Solely an introduction of protocols will not substantially change the manner in which victims of Gender-based Violence (GBV) are treated by the health system. One time capacity building is also not 355 sufficient to change attitudes and undo biases. This requires a more fundamental change in the way medical education treats sexual assault. The preoccupation with medico-legal requirement of handling cases of sexual ass<;!ult must be replaced by an emphasis on providing holistic care to victims. Moreover, fear of the legal system and administrative rigmarole thwart the efforts of even sensitive providers. Demystifying legal obligation and modifying administrative procedures related to handling of victims and provision of holistic care will aid this process and make it easier for providers to respond sensitively.

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