Sexual and gender-based violence

Sexual violence occurs in all societies and in all contexts at any time. Destabilisation of contexts often results in increased levels of violence, including sexual violence. Sexual violence is particularly complex and stigmatising, has long-lasting consequences and can result in important physical and psychological health risks.

MSF medical care for victims of sexual violence covers preventive treatment against sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, syphilis and gonorrhoea, and vaccinations for tetanus and hepatitis B. Treatment of physical injuries, psychological support and the prevention and management of unwanted pregnancy are also part of the systematic care. MSF provides a medical certificate to all victims of violence.

Medical care is central to MSF’s response to sexual violence, but stigma and fear may prevent many victims from coming forward. A proactive approach is necessary to raise awareness about the medical consequences of sexual violence and the availability of care. Where MSF sees large numbers of victims – especially in areas of conflict – advocacy action aims to raise awareness among local authorities, as well as the armed forces when they are involved in the assaults. 

Hover over the image below for a guide to MSF's work with survivors of sexual violence

a guide to MSF's work with survivors of sexual violence



MSF medically treated 13,800 patients for sexual-violence related injuries in 2016.

Sexual violence can cause a wide variety of medical consequences affecting physical and reproductive health.  

Physical injuries can range from stab wounds, fractures, and bleeding to vaginal fistulas.  

People who are sexually abused are also more susceptible to developing a sexually transmitted infection (STI) such as HIV. STIs are more likely to be transmitted by forced sex, as vaginal or anal tears provide an entry for the virus. 

Another medical consequence can be unintended pregnancies. According to the World Health Organisation, women who have suffered sexual violence are twice as likely to have an abortion. Unsafe abortions performed in resource-poor settings often cause further consequences for reproductive health.

sexual violence, Democratic Republic Congo
Democratic Republic of Congo. Marguerite (not her real name) was sleeping at home next to her field when three armed men broke her door and dragged her into the forest. They beat and raped her. Her neighbours who heard the attack came looking for her and found her naked and unconscious body in the forest the following morning. They brought her to Biakato health centre to receive emergency medical and psychological care. 

How do we respond?

Medical care

As sexual violence can occur anywhere at any time, MSF ensures that all of its projects are equipped to handle sexual violence cases.

However, in some places such as Papua New Guinea, Colombia, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, we have projects that are set up specifically to provide treatment to victims of violence, including sexual violence. In these situations, we: 

  • Prevent against infection (HIV, STIs, Hepatitis B, Tetanus)
  • Provide pregnancy tests
  • Provide emergency contraceptives
  • Help to manage unwanted pregnancies
  • Provide treatment for physical injuries

Our medics urge people to try and seek treatment within three days of an attack, to not only treat physical injuries but to also prevent disease. 

Survivors of rape are given post-exposure prophylaxis to try and prevent possible infections such as HIV. The sooner the drugs are given the more effective they are, but will have no effect if more than three days have passed since exposure. 

Antibiotics are given to prevent STI’s like syphilis and gonorrhoea. Vaccination for tetanus and hepatitis B can also be given, the latter is only effective if given within three months of a rape occurring. 

In some settings, emergency contraception can also be provided to prevent unwanted pregnancy. 


Read: I Have No Joy, No Peace of Mind" Consequences of sexual violence in Eastern DRC