Sexual violence affects many of our emergency department patients. According to the World Health organization, “Sexual violence is a serious public health and human rights problem with both short- and long-term consequences on women’s physical, mental, and sexual and reproductive health.” Many practitioners struggle with addressing sexual violence with our patients, even when we recognize it as an important issue.
The first step in treating sexual violence as a public health problem is approaching this issue as a population health issue, with consideration of the issue prevalence. According to the CDC, “Almost 40 percent of women have encountered other forms of sexual violence, such as unwanted sexual contact. Among men, almost 11 percent have experienced unwanted sexual contact, with about 47 percent of bisexual men and 40 percent of gay men experiencing some form of sexual violence other than rape, which can include sexual coercion or non-contact unwanted experiences.” The CDC recommends the using the following strategies to curbing sexual violence:
– “Promote social norms to protect against violence: Using a bystander approach, such as encouraging young people to speak up against sexist language and violence-promoting behaviors is advised, as are approaches that involve engaging men and boys as allies.
– Teach skills to prevent sexual violence: Helping teens learn healthy, safe dating and intimate relationship skills and providing comprehensive sex education, among other approaches
– Provide opportunities to empower and support girls and women: Strengthening economic support for women — such as equitable pay, affordable child care and paid leave — can help reduce sexual violence. Providing leadership skills for teen girls can help develop healthy relationships.
– Create protective environments: Environmental approaches to addressing sexual violence include improving school safety, establishing policies in the workplace and adopting community policies on excessive alcohol use.
– Support victims and survivors: Providing medical and legal services, psychological interventions and treatment for at-risk children and families can lessen harm”
Sexual violence is a tough and pervasive problem which could be easily put aside during a busy shift. However, I encourage you to consider the words of Dr. Galea, Doctor of Medicine and Public Health at Boston University:
“The goals of public health are inseparable from the goals of social justice… A society characterized by systemic sexual harassment and violence is one where these goals [of equity, engagement and support of well-being] have not been reached. Addressing this problem means addressing the core concerns of public health—the improvement of conditions in which people live and work, and the closing of health gaps—to create a culture that no longer accepts sexual violence and the broader injustices that enable it.”
Late, M. (2018, April). CDC resource provides strategies for preventing sexual violence. The Nation’s Health. Retrieved September 25, 2018, from http://thenationshealth.aphapublications.org/sites/default/files/additional-assets/PDFs/PreventingSexualAssaults-SpecialSection.pdf
Galea, S., MD, DrPH. (2017, November 28). Preventing Sexual Harassment and Assault: A Public Health Imperative | SPH | Boston University. Retrieved September 25, 2018, from http://www.bu.edu/sph/2017/11/28/preventing-sexual-harassment-and-assault-a-public-health-imperative/
The World Health Organization. (2015, September 21). Sexual violence. Retrieved September 25, 2018, from http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/violence/sexual_violence/en/