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I Am Supporting Survivors, Ending Violence.
Throughout my work with survivors of gender-based violence, I have met women with incredible resilience. My clients, predominantly women from Latin America and the Caribbean, had a range of experiences, including domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking. The sexual and reproductive health rights of these women were compromised as a part of the actions perpetrated against them. As advocates and health care providers working with this population, we must remain conscious of and sensitive to meeting survivors’ unique sexual and reproductive health needs. We must also acknowledge the strength it takes to endure abuse and seek a way out.
Many foreign-born women who experience violence and enter the United States do so through threats or coercion. Some of the women I met had been legally married to their abusers as early as the age of twelve. Others were told that if they did not go to the US, their parents, siblings, or children would be hurt or killed. A woman’s ability to trust even the most well intentioned individual or organization has been compromised by the time she ever reaches one, and it is our responsibility to understand the depth of her struggle and do what we can to decrease the level of difficulty.
In their home countries, where medical expenses are so great that women receive only limited health care, many survivors have little to no access to sexual and reproductive health information or services. Women often access health centers only while in labor and delivery, and this can be a key time for a health provider intervention. Many of the women I worked with had children with their abusers; some had multiple children at very young ages. When young women I met asked their doctors for a tubal ligation upon delivery, they were told they were too young for the procedure with no further discussion. The emerging movement supporting long-acting, reversible contraception is an encouraging approach for meeting the needs of abused women and offering them the ability to control their own reproduction.
Health providers and advocates require training on gender-based violence to increase their understanding of the best ways to work with survivors. We must strive towards creating a range of solutions to reduce the unmet family planning needs for this population. We must support the sexual rights of survivors and empower them to take control of their reproductive futures. Most of all, we must endeavor to earn their trust by respecting, protecting, and fulfilling their sexual and reproductive rights. Gender-based violence is a sexual and reproductive health issue—and the right to be protected from, and to have recourse against, all forms of violence is a human right.