Several misconceptions exist about sexual assault. These misconceptions often shift responsibility and blame from the assailant to the victim. But understanding the misconceptions surrounding sexual assault often helps in the recovery of victims and survivors.
In June 2015, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also known in English as Doctors Without Borders, in partnership with the state Ministry of Health in Port Harcourt, launched a comprehensive programme dedicated to victims of sexual violence in the city.
The programme not only provides free and confidential medical and psychological care, it also organizes local activities aimed at raising awareness among Port Harcourt communities about sexual violence, its medical consequences, and the available services in MSF clinics.
Dr Chuku Adanda, the medical doctor in the MSF clinic of Orogbum area, in Port Harcourt, expands on the MSF’s mission and why it focuses on education:
“We encourage people to seek health care as early as possible after a rape or sexual assault, ideally within three days. However there is a lot of misconceptions and sometimes it can prevent a victim from accessing these much-needed services.
In Port Harcourt as elsewhere in the world, there are many misconceptions about rape and sexual violence, their consequences and how someone can prevent them. Some people consider that rape affects children and teenagers only, whereas, in reality, it can happen to everybody.
It happens to men, to people who are in a relationship and to many other people. Whoever is forced into any kind of sexual activity is a victim of sexual violence and need medical attention as soon as possible.”
Culturally, Nigerians tilt more towards victim blaming. There’s an unprecedented amount of people who believe that rape could have been avoided by any number of actions – strangely, almost always, absolving the attacker from any responsibility. Among other reasons, people blame the victims for not being careful enough or not wearing proper clothes, but MSF is having to reiterate that “Rape can happen to anyone, and it is never the victim’s fault!”.
The MSF team regularly visits universities, schools, health facilities, police stations, and local markets to encourage discussion and spread accurate information. They have been doing that through a series of online videos posted on social media, seeking to reinforce the dissemination to a larger audience.
MSF now currently operates in two clinics in Port Harcourt: Orogbum health centre and Eliozu health centre. Services are free of charge and confidential. The comprehensive healthcare package includes prophylaxis for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, vaccinations for tetanus and hepatitis B, medical first aid to treat injuries, emergency contraception, and psychological and social support.
In 2017, MSF team treated on average 75 new cases and provided 350 consultations every month. In 2018, the number of new cases treated every month increased to about 100, but many more remain ignored and do not get the urgent medical care and attention they require.