Sexual Violence: Medical and Psychosocial Support

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Lauren Harris, Julie Freccero
Publication Date
May 1, 2011
Publication Type
Working Paper
Conflict, International Criminal Law, International Humanitarian Law, Public Health


This paper focuses on the medical and psychosocial aspects of sexual violence. It provides an overview of the consequences of sexual violence, barriers that victims face in accessing services, protocols for treatment, and approaches to providing comprehensive care. The paper locates the medical/psychosocial treatment for sexual violence within a human rights framework and identifies the physical and psychological consequences. It sets out the medical and forensic measures that should be taken after sexual assault occurs and the ideal approaches to psychological care. Finally, the paper examines two main strategies for providing medical and psychosocial support services to survivors. The first is a “systems approach” which seeks to strengthen the response from the health sector overall by upgrading and reforming all levels of health care institutions and by expanding the role of nurses through sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) programs. The second is an “integrated models” approach that combines existing resources to deliver comprehensive medical care to victims. Examples of integrated models include sexual assault response teams (SART) and “one-stop shops.” The paper also describes specific strategies that can be used to increase access to care in areas affected by armed conflict and political unrest. This paper is part of a Working Paper Series produced by the Sexual Violence and Accountability Project, at the Human Rights Center, University of California, Berkeley Law School. Along with three other Working Papers, it was drafted in preparation for the “Sexual Offences Act Implementation Workshop” to be hosted by the Human Rights Center in Kenya, in May 2011. It will be presented to the cross-sectoral stakeholders tasked with responding to sexual and gender-based violence in Kenya, to help contextualize discussion about medical and psychosocial support for survivors of sexual violence.