Rape: international action is not enough

October 26, 2000

Editorial: Time to talk about rape

Personal View: The day my life changed

At least one in every five women experiences rape or attempted rape during her lifetime, yet international efforts to prevent sexual violence are failing because the judicial system is so often stacked against women, according to an editorial in this week's BMJ.

A Human Rights Watch report recently concluded that sexual violence is increasing and women in many countries are becoming worse off. It identifies issues that need to be addressed - such as eliminating police bias, providing protection from further violence and ensuring that perpetrators are brought to justice. Yet such high level measures are often hard to implement because they involve changing attitudes and power relationships, so perhaps it is not surprising that a purely "top-down" approach is ineffective, argues the author.

A strong, coordinated "bottom-up" approach is also required, with healthcare professionals as advocates for women - providing support and care for both the physical and emotional consequences of sexual violence. "We need to brush aside the taboos and talk more openly about this huge problem and the practical ways of tackling it," concludes the author.

The importance of health professionals as advocates is also emphasised in a personal view, written anonymously for the BMJ, which reveals how counselling sessions enabled one woman to come to terms with her ordeal.

Rhona MacDonald, Editorial Registrar, British Medical Journal, London, UK
Email: Rmacdonald@bmj.com


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