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Feasibility and acceptability of gender-based violence screening: Primary health facilities in humanitarian settings

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Gender-based violence (GBV) includes acts of physical, emotional and sexual violence, forced and early marriage, and sexual exploitation and abuse. In conflict-affected areas, it is an epidemic. Recent research suggests that at least 1 in 5 refugees or displaced women in humanitarian settings have experienced sexual violence — this figure is even higher when considering women who experience violence or threats of violence by intimate partners or other family members.

Competent, confidential and compassionate care is critical for reducing the risk of ongoing injury, suffering and long-term consequences for survivors. International standards for humanitarian interventions recognize this need, noting the right of survivors to access care and to be treated with dignity and respect and free from blame. These responsibilities cannot be realized, however, without addressing two key realities: survivors are often reluctant to self-report, due to the stigmatizing and sensitive nature of GBV, and health care workers are not routinely trained to care for and identify women who have experienced GBV.

Enabling skilled providers to confidentially, efficiently and effectively identify individuals who have experienced GBV is a crucial part of ensuring that survivors receive care that meets their needs and promotes their safety.

Humanitarian practitioners are interested in the practice, based on studies suggesting that screening for GBV in health care settings is acceptable to clients and providers, and can increase the identification of survivors who might need care. Despite this, the World Health Organization’s recommendations around GBV screening remain weak pending additional research proving that screening reduces violence and improves health outcomes in low-resource settings.

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