Violence and Injury Prevention

Guidelines for medico-legal services for victims of sexual violence

Sexual violence is a pervasive global problem with significant consequences for the physical and psychological health of victims, yet in many places around the world, there is a gap between the health needs of survivors and the services available. Women who have suffered sexual assault often are not examined by a health worker with specialized training in forensic examination or sexual violence in general. Conversely, women who report a sexual assault to the police may be examined for collection of forensic evidence without their other health needs being addressed. To help insure that women and children who have been sexually abused have access to adequate care, WHO’s Department of Injuries and Violence Prevention, in collaboration with the Department of Gender and Women’s Health, began an initiative in 2001 to strengthen the health sector response to sexual violence. Guidelines for medico-legal care for victims of sexual violence is a major product of this initiative. The guidelines are designed to enable health workers to provide comprehensive care for the medical, psychological and forensic needs of survivors of sexual assault. This first edition of the guidelines has been subjected to extensive peer review and review within WHO and currently is being pilot tested.