Dear friends and colleagues“Women and girls who risk sexual violence as they flee their home countries are getting contraceptive injections as a precautionary measure. For someone to know that they are at such risk of sexual violence, and yet they are determined to continue on that journey.”
Hillary Margolis, New York-based Human Rights Watch
Migrant and refugee women and girls are at risk of sexual violence throughout their entire journey, on their way to find refuge or reunite with their beloved ones. A study from 2014 estimated that around 21% of women in 14 conflict countries reported sexual violence.According to the UNHCR many women and girls who are fleeing their homes because of fear of being sexually assaulted, still encounter that same fate on their journey to freedom. For instance, there are estimations that up to 80% of women and girls from Central America crossing Mexico into the US have been raped.
Rape, often occurs in combination with physical, emotional or socio-economic violence and the lack of information and unnecessary detention also put migrating women at increased risk for sexual violence. According to a study conducted in 2012, 66.3% of female migrants, including refugees, have experienced sexual violence after having entered Europe. Furthermore, such acts were often perpetrated by European professionals or citizens. This is in stark contrast to the 11% lifetime prevalence of sexual violence in European girls and women aged over 15 and indicates the possible magnitude of the issue of sexual violence against refugee and migrant women in Europe.
And we should never forget that sexual violence is also directed towards men and boys before, during or after migration -including detention-. In general, there have been less focus on this form of violence against men and, when it is addressed, it is described or defined as torture, as it may happen as part of interrogation, arrest or punishment. Methods of torture, inflicted both on women and men, often attack sexuality as this may have particular serious repercussions on those who are victimized (Genefke, I.K. 1986.)
Despite various reports calling for action and for better ways of addressing the survivors acute; situation and condition, no comprehensive response is in place, limited assistance is provided, and the problem often not recognized by aid workers. Moreover, a weak coordination between government and humanitarian actors and language barriers challenge a gender-sensitive response. Thus, referral to relevant GBV services where mental health support and information about their rights is hardly provided. As a consequence of poor protective measures, people remain in unsafe passages to their destiny with limited or no assistance to reunite with their families. This increases the risk of exploitation by traffickers and smugglers.
Sexual violence can result in unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, and can adversely affect the mental health of those exposed to this form of violence, leading to post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. In addition, stigma and shame associated with rape, in many cultures, can lead to underreporting of cases, social rejection, suicide or murder of women and girls by family or community members.
Those subjected to sexual violence require immediate emotional and physical health support and protection. Sexual violence guidelines specific for migrants and refugees recommend confidentiality, providing safety and protection from further suffering, as well as acting in the best interest and according to the wishes of the victim.
The training manual Mental health and gender-based violence: Helping survivors of sexual violence in conflict also known as “HHRI GBV Manual” is a tool on approaches and techniques that address the psychological needs of survivors of gender-based violence. It is a tool to approach survivors of rape and other forms of sexual violence in contexts of disasters, conflicts and emergency situations, where access to health professionals with psychological or psychiatric expertise usually is very limited.
The Arabic, Russian and Spanish versions of our training manual is available for free. If you would like a hard copy, please send us an e-mail explaining what kind of work you are doing and why would you need the manual it. Please note that complementary to the GBV Manual, we have developed a tool box which you also can accessed for free in English, Spanish, Korean, Georgian and Romanian if you visit our GBV manual web page. We would like to encourage you direct your questions or feedback to us through our e-mail.
The International Society for Health and Human Rights is an international network of professionals, specialists, civil society stakeholders, advocates, and students who are committed to promoting human rights, and delivering health services to survivors of human rights violations, and to other vulnerable communities. For over 30 years, ISHHR has been dedicated to bringing together these likeminded individuals to exchange knowledge, experience, developments, research, and to informally network with one another.
ISHHR membership costs €10, and will remain valid for 3 years. The benefits of being an ISHHR member include being a part of a global network, as well as gaining exclusive access to discounts, and special offers at the next ISHHR Conference. Sign the membership form and return it to email@example.com