MSF provides care for both male and female victims of sexual violence in many of its projects around the world. Victims who come to MSF clinics are offered a comprehensive package of care, including treatment of injuries, infection prevention, legal support, and psychological and social support. Two operational research studies analyzed data from over 13,000 cases of sexual violence treated by MSF in Africa, highlighting key differences between male and female victims in terms of access to care, as well as characteristics of the assaults and their perpetrators.
UNDERREPRESENTATION OF MALE VICTIMS
Because the majority victims of sexual violence are females, most programs are aimed at women and girls. As an example, sexual violence clinics are sometimes integrated into Mother and Child Health Units.
But up to 7.5% of the victims in these operational research studies were men and boys, who may have fewer points of access to care. The social stigma surrounding sexual violence, including fear of feminization and cultural expectations of male invulnerability, contributes to the underrepresentation of male victims. Furthermore, the setup of clinics, which may require patients to immediately reveal that they have been victims of sexual violence, often poses barriers for male victims to come forward and seek assistance.
Long neglected as victims of sexual violence, males are gradually gaining much-needed attention and better-adapted care.
INCREASING ACCESS TO CARE
The two studies show that a gender-neutral entry point to sexual violence services is a crucial factor in encouraging more males to seek care. Clinics need to ensure an access route which does not require patients to immediately disclose that they have been victims of sexual violence. Thanks to campaigns of de-stigmatization and increased awareness of the availability of sexual violence care, parents and guardians of younger victims likely play a key role in helping children receive appropriate care.
Based on their findings, the studies recommend appropriately trained medical staff, increased psychosocial support in clinics, and health promotion activities in communities to ensure both male and female victims are identified and referred as early as possible for adapted and specialized care. For MSF operations and partner projects, the study findings are used to ensure comprehensive care for victims of sexual violence and to improve services.
Research for Sexual and Reproductive Health
Sexual and Reproductive Health focuses on physical, mental, and social well-being in matters relating to the reproductive system, and includes a wide array of topics, ranging from sexual and gender-based violence to access to contraception, awareness of sexually transmitted diseases, or the provision of adequate mother and child care. In many of the countries where MSF is present, for example, the rates of maternal mortality are among the highest in the world, highlighting the need for increased coverage of essential care, specialized care, a better understanding on why this is happening, and how MSF can fill the existing gap.
Exploring the scientific aspects of sexual and reproductive health from medical and social perspectives, LuxOR is planning a dedicated SORT IT course that will start in September 2019 and produce scientific results in mid-2020.