Why it is absolutely essential to deem rape a medical emergency

Though there are government guidelines in place for “medical emergency for rape victims”, few rape survivors get the medical attention they need.

Myupchar October 30, 2019 12:13:36 IST
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Why it is absolutely essential to deem rape a medical emergency
  • Rape survivors may have vaginal injuries, mutilated genitalia, pelvic inflammatory disease, a sexually transmitted disease, urinary tract infections, or experience severe abdominal pain

  • From shock and fear to depression and nightmares, rape can take a severe toll on the survivorÃ�¢ï¿½ï¿½s mind too

  • It's not just crimes against women, child sexual abuse in India is also high

National Crime Reports Bureau (NCRB) released its crime report for 2017 on 21 October 2019. Data show that while crime as a whole went up by 3.6% year-on-year, crimes against women grew 6% over 2016.

Consider these numbers: 3.6 lakh of the 50 lakh-plus crimes reported in 2017 were committed against women. About 10.3% were rape cases. Sexual offences, including rape, comprised 25.3% of all crimes against children. At 32,559, the number of rape cases in 2017 came down from 38,947 the previous year.

Why it is absolutely essential to deem rape a medical emergency

Representational image. Image source: Getty Images.

Even though the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has guidelines for “medical emergency for rape victims”, few rape survivors get the medical attention they need. Part of the reason is the social stigma and feeling of shame around rape. Part of it may be attributed to misinformation.

It is, however, of paramount importance that we understand that rape is a medical emergency.

Effects of rape on the body and mind

Sexual assault can have a serious impact on a person’s physical, mental and emotional health. Rape survivors may have medical injuries that need immediate and/or long-term attention.

Rape survivors may have vaginal injuries, mutilated genitalia, pelvic inflammatory disease, a sexually transmitted disease, urinary tract infections, or experience severe abdominal pain. Doctors can help administer rape tests as well as give survivors pills to prevent HIV AIDS infection and unwanted pregnancies soon after the incidence - ideally within 72 hours.

From shock and fear to depression and nightmares, rape can take a severe toll on the survivor’s mind too. These are some of the conditions doctors keep an eye out for:

  • An inability to function normally in their daily lives
  • Depression and chronic anxiety
  • Feelings of vulnerability
  • Loss of control and/or self-esteem
  • Emotional distress
  • Impaired sense of self
  • Nightmares
  • Self-blame
  • Mistrust
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Chronic mental disorders
  • Suicidal thoughts or thoughts of endangering themselves

Immediate medical assistance and empathy can help a survivor deal with the trauma to an extent.

Bigger picture

It’s not just crimes against women, child sexual abuse in India is also high. A nationwide study on child abuse conducted by the Ministry of Women and Child Development showed that almost 53% children across 13 states were facing some sort of sexual abuse while 22% were severely sexually assaulted - this data included both boys and girls.

To be sure, efforts are on on many fronts to raise awareness about sexual assault and rape. Case in point: Article 15, a film with actor Ayushman Khurrana in the lead, was based on the gang rape of three Dalit girls by people with political clout. Earlier this year, Netflix also streamed Delhi Crime, a show about the investigation into the rape and death of Jyoti Pandey - arguably a watershed case that changed the way we talk about rape and redress in this country.

Still, more needs to be done if we are to help the 32,559 people who were raped in 2017 recover their health.

Helping hand

Organisations such as the Azad Foundation (011-40601878), Doctors Without Borders India, Bhartiya Grameen Mahila Sangh and the International Center for Research on Women (011-46643333) have programmes and centres dedicated to helping rape survivors across the country.

Though they each have specialisations, some of the things these organisations do include rescuing the victims from dangerous situations, providing medical aid as well as financial support to rebuild their lives. Some organisations, such as the Bengaluru headquartered Lawyers’ Collective, also help women file police reports and fight for justice.

How can you help? Some of these organisations accept donations and take volunteers. And if you are ever in a position to help a rape survivor - on the street, in your building, at a party, in a mall - take them to the nearest hospital as soon as possible. Make sure they don’t wash up or change their clothes before a doctor has had a chance to examine them. Comfort them and be there for them.

Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health. For more information, please read our article on Vagina and Vagina Health.

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