Earler this month, I had the chance to visit Uganda. I met a Christian doctor working with HIV and AIDS in Kampala and we discussed the significant links between sexual violence and HIV. I told him about how Restored had been born at the Mexico World AIDS conference in 2008 as we listened to a Namibian woman taking about how she had been raped three times as a teenager and had contracted HIV.
He started to talk about how difficult it is for women in Uganda who have been raped. They are required to report the incident first to the police, but they have to pay a significant amount to get a form in order to make a formal report. Many police and doctors lack training as to how to deal with people who have been raped. Many women do not get the emergency post-exposure prophylaxis necessary to protect them from HIV infection, or the other medical support they need. This doctor’s dream is for a walk-in centre where women could receive a professional and integrated response. It seems a long way off.
I was caused to reflect on the strides that have been made in the UK by police and medical authorities in responding to rape over the past decade. And yet two thirds of police forces still do not have specialist rape units, and the experience of the criminal justice system is often distressing and profoundly unsatisfactory for rape survivors. The Stern Review in 2010 provided valuable information on the current response in the UK, see http://www.equalities.gov.uk/pdf/Stern_Review_of_Rape_Reporting_1FINAL.pdf. The report estimates that only one in nine rapes is reported to police.
A women’s experience of rape is only partly determined by the legal and medical response. Often much more important is the reaction of her family and friends. Recent reports have suggested that women raped in Libya may be murdered by their families or communities if they are found to be pregnant. Women in other countries also face such “honour” attacks after rape. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, women who are raped are often rejected by their husbands. As well as coping with horrific attacks, these women also face losing their homes and children, if their husbands are unwilling to take them back.
These appalling experiences should motivate us to campaign for change so that women survivors of rape receive an appropriate professional response to meet their medical and legal needs, and get loving support from their families and communities to help them recover at this time of great vulnerability and need. Churches can do much to set the tone for such responses and to provide individual support and encouragement for survivors. They can also be at the forefront of campaigning for change in their own countries. How are women survivors treated in the country where you live? How could you help to improve the situation?