What kind of help do victims need?
The safety, health, and well-being of the victim should be the highest priority. This includes ensuring that the victim is able to maintain her safety and dignity. If possible, the victim should be given immediate medical, legal and counseling support by providers who have had specialized training in providing services for victims of GBV. The providers also need to be aware of the relevant local protocols, rules, and laws. If resources are not available locally, decisions will have to be made by the victim and her supporters about whether she needs to go to a location where such help is available.
In all cases, the following guiding principles should be observed:
- Security and safety. The highest immediate priority must be the safety and security of the victim. Whatever measures are necessary to ensure her physical and psychological safety should be undertaken. This might include altering her transportation, living, or working conditions, ensuring that she is not alone, arranging for her to leave the area where the event has taken place, etc.
- Confidentiality & privacy. GBV is a highly personal and private event. The victim’s privacy and confidentiality must be safeguarded in work, legal, and medical processes. In all cases, adult victims should have control over who and when others are informed of their case. The exceptions to confidentiality are those cases of abuse of a minor or other dependent person or where there is likelihood of violent harm to self or other. In these cases, authorities who have the ability to prevent further violent harm must be notified. Notification should be done in a way that includes the victim and respects her concerns, needs, rights, and dignity.
- Respect & Autonomy. Victims have the right to informed consent that is appropriate to their age and ability. This means that they should be given information that is easy to understand and allowed to participate in all decisions that affect them.
- Avoidance of re-victimization. At times, attempts to help victims can re-traumatize them and even put them at greater risk in their community. Any actions must be taken under the principle of “do no harm.” For example, a well-meaning co-worker who knows of the event might tell others with the intent of creating a sympathetic work environment. However, this may have the reverse effect, inadvertently increasing the victim’s sense of helplessness, shame, anger, and isolation. In some cases, the result may be social stigma and alienation. Forcing someone to re-tell the details of the event when she is not emotionally prepared to do so may also result in harm.