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The health sector is a key entry point for survivors

Last edited: January 06, 2011

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  • The majority of women and girls who are survivors of violence may never report their victimization to anyone (UNIFEM, 2003a; WHO, 2009). However, those who experience and/or are at risk for violence are likely to seek out health services at some point in their lives, for routine care, sexual and reproductive health-related services, emergency treatment, etc.   In fact, women who have experienced violence may be even more likely than non-victims to utilize medical services (Golding, 1988; Koss, Koss, & Woodruff, 1991; Kimmerling & Calhoun, 1994, cited in Weaver & Resnick, 2000; Campbell, 2002).
  • Health care providers are therefore in a unique position to identify survivors and offer them appropriate treatment and referrals.   In health care settings where providers are well trained, caring and sensitive, most women respond positively to being asked about their exposure to violence (Battaglia, Finley, & Liebschutz, 2003; McAfee, 1995; Littleton, Berenson & Breitkopf, 2007, cited in Stevens, 2007).
  • Sexual and reproductive health services may be an especially important entry point for survivors of violence.  The percentage of women and girls reporting violence can be higher among clients using sexual and reproductive health services than the percentages of women and girls reporting violence in population-based surveys (Luciano, 2007).  The reasons for this may be diverse, but one common element among most sexual and reproductive health services – including ante-natal services, pregnancy testing, maternal and child health care, family planning, STI and HIV treatment– is that the women and girls who use these services have had unprotected sex.  While many women and girls may have willingly participated in unprotected sex, a notable percentage may have had unprotected sex because they were in violent or coercive relationships.  It may also be easier in sexual and reproductive health services to identify women and girls who have experienced abuse because service providers tend to follow clients over time.