Gender Violence:The Health Impact – Responding to Domestic and Sexual Violence: An Emergency Health Care Model

by Diksha Choudhary

In a survey conducted in 2010 by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, India won an unenviable tag: that of the worst G20 country in the world to be a woman in[i]. The latest numbers from the National Crime Records Bureau don’t contradict that poll either. In 2013 alone, 309,546 crimes against women were reported, including 118,866 cases of domestic violence, and 33,707 cases of rape[ii]. By average, that’s 92 women who get raped every day, and 848 who have taken the step to report domestic violence, every day.

The statistics paint a gory picture. And gender violence is a crime with serious health consequences. World Health Organization (WHO) defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”[iii]

Gender-based violence results in physical and psychological trauma on the victims. Physical trauma may include abdominal pain, unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, pelvic inflammatory diseases, sexual dysfunction etc. whereas psychological trauma might range from being in shock, denial, numbness, guilt to self- loathing, depression and even suicidal attempts.

So, if a woman who has been abused walks into the emergency ward of a hospital in India, what sort of help can she expect?

In the last few years, India has commenced showing sensitivity towards the issue of emergency medical healthcare. For example, as per Section 357 C of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (introduced by an amendment in the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013), both public and private hospitals are required to provide free treatment to survivors of sexual assault and they cannot be denied such treatment. Refusal to provide medico legal examination and treatment is punishable by imprisonment for up to 1 year as per Section 166B of the Indian Penal Code[iv].

However, so far there is no accepted, standardized and efficient protocol for medical personnel to follow. Until recently, there was no standardized pro-forma for rape examinations across hospitals in India, which was corrected in a guideline issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in March 2014.[v] While this is an essential first step in strengthening the institutional infrastructure required for an emergency healthcare model, few hospitals follow this protocol.

Incidents like the one in Mysore[vi] where a rape survivor with mental disabilities was made to wait naked for a medical exam reek of insensitivity on the part of medical practitioners. It also raises questions about the training provided to our doctors and nurses. There is an urgent need to implement the training structure as per the new guidelines by the Government to sensitize and educate all medical personnel on how to provide the best medical help to the victims. There is also a need to develop specialized certification training program such as Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) in USA to respond to sexual assault patients’ emotional and physical needs as well as forensic evidentiary requirements of the victims.[vii]

Plans to build 600 one stop crisis centres across the country are another step in the right direction[viii]. Models from countries like UK are good examples to emulate, where sexual assault referral centres provide medical care and forensic examination following assault/rape and, in some locations, sexual health services. Medical services provided are free of charge and are provided to women, men, young people and children[ix].

While that’s the wishlist for essential institutional and physical infrastructure needed for emergency healthcare for sexual and domestic violence survivors, here’s an attempt at a ‘model’ model for emergency response: the 3Es to follow for survivors:

  1. Emergency Helpline, or an Emergency Medical Dispatcher (EMD): There is a need for a centralized emergency medical dispatch service in defined zones of every state which provides immediate medical help needed for the victim of sexual violence. This EMD would gather information related to medical emergencies such as information regarding the perpetrator, the wounds inflicted on the victim or information collected from a family member, to provide immediate help prior to the arrival of medical services. It would also dispatch an Emergency medical services team for the aide of the victim[x]. In the United States of America and Canada, 9-1-1 functions as an EMD for all kinds of emergency services. We can develop a similar emergency medical dispatch network to help in the cases of exigencies tailored for medical attention specific to gender violence. Further it is vital that not only government hospitals but private hospitals and nursing homes are included in this program.
  2. Essential Medical Attention: Once a survivor of domestic or sexual violence is brought to a hospital, or a one stop crisis centre, medical practitioners must follow standardized procedures for providing immediate medical care. This must include treatment of physical injuries, detection of sexually transmitted infections, and provision of emergency contraceptives where needed. It must also include psychological counseling of the survivor, and her immediate family or friends where needed.[xi]
  3. Evidence Collection Protocol: An emergency model must also have a proper protocol for forensic evidence collection, and the right methods to do the same. The protocol must expressly forbid prejudicial medical practices like the two-finger test. One-stop crisis centres must have rape kits for doing the necessary tests and for safe storage of evidence. [xii]

[i] http://www.trust.org/item/20120613010100-b7scy/?source=spotlight

[ii] National Crime Records Bureau- http://ncrb.gov.in/ and  http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-29708612

[iii] WHO Violence against Women- http://www.who.int/topics/gender_based_violence/en/

[iv] http://indiacode.nic.in/acts-in-pdf/132013.pdf

[v] guidelines and protocols to provide medico-legal care for survivors and victims of sexual violence http://uphealth.up.nic.in/med-order-14-15/med2/sexual-vil.pdf

[vi] News Article- http://daily.bhaskar.com/news/BAN-brazen-display-of-insensitivity-rape-victim-made-to-wait-naked-for-3-hours-in-go-4688547-NOR.html

[vii] http://www.vawnet.org/applied-research-papers/print-document.php?doc_id=417

[viii] http://wcd.nic.in/nirbhaya_centre.pdf

[ix] http://www.rapecrisis.org.uk/Referralcentres2.php, http://www.cwhn.ca/en/organization_en/results/taxonomy%3A2998

[x] Wikipedia definition of Emergency Medical Dispatcher -http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergency_medical_dispatcher,

[xi] http://www.rapecrisis.org.uk/index.php, https://rainn.org/get-help/sexual-assault-and-rape-international-resources, http://www.cwhn.ca/en/organization_en/results/taxonomy%3A2998

[xii] https://www.rainn.org/get-information/sexual-assault-recovery/rape-kit, http://www.casac.ca/, http://www.rapecrisis.org.uk/Policeprocedure2.php, http://uphealth.up.nic.in/med-order-14-15/med2/sexual-vil.pdf

*****

Diksha Choudhary is a former analyst with one of the top consulting firms in the world, and is currently a fellow with PRS Legislative Research’s Legislative Assistants to Members of Parliament programme. In her spare time, Diksha reads French works of fiction.

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