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Society | Gender - Women | Health

Lesotho intensifies efforts to help rape survivors

afrol News / IRIN, 7 June - The Lesotho government is to improve medical care provided to sexual violence survivors after rape cases reported in the first three months of this year climbed to almost the total number for 2005.

According to Motselisi Mosotho, a member of the Child and Gender Protection Unit (CGPU), 484 rape cases were registered by the police in the small land-locked kingdom between January and March this year, compared to 501 cases in the whole of 2005.

The CGPU is part of the Lesotho Mounted Police Services, which monitors reported cases of abuse and violence against children and women in a country with a population of two million.

A recent training programme, run jointly by the government and the UN Children's Fund (Unicef) to improve services for abuse survivors, was attended by more than 40 private and public medical personnel as well as members of the Christian Health Association of Lesotho, a faith-based organisation that has eight hospitals and 70 health centres.

The course covered how to provide post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), a regime of antiretroviral drugs that reduces the risk of contracting HIV from a positive attacker; collecting evidence to help prosecute rape cases; the investigation of sexually transmitted infections; HIV and pregnancy tests; and providing psychosocial support.

"The training is one of the many awareness campaigns to bring all stakeholders up to speed on the handling of raped persons, especially children," said Mandaba Limema, a social worker with the Ministry of Health.

A gynaecologist working at a government hospital, Dr Hassan Elhag, said the course had been comprehensive and timely, as medical personnel in the country had previously only been required to identify sperm and the presence of sexually transmitted infections.

"We concentrated on physical examination, where we looked for scratches that would indicate a rape. We would do a vaginal swab where, microscopically, sperm would be examined, and a possibility of infection would be determined. Then we would prescribe medication for STI and emergency contraceptives. We never gave PEP. Though counseling was done, it was not intensive because in an emergency setup there is just is no time," Mr Elhag explained. "But with this training ... the sexual offences act [has] come to life."

According to Unicef, the current case-reporting and data-collection forms used in hospitals focused mainly on physical evidence and were comprehensive enough to allow doctors to follow up on rape and abuse cases, but "without the guidelines to standardise management of rape, and ensure a holistic and coordinated approach among concerned sectors, treatment of survivors relies entirely on individual service providers, often without further referrals."

In Lesotho's patriarchal society, violence against women is characterised by shame and stigma, and regarded as a family affair. Proper care and management of rape survivors could help reduce the burden of work placed on organisations, who often lacked the resources to deal with the abused, said Mavis Mochochoko of Ministries of Insured Salvation, a children and women's rights group based in the capital, Maseru.

If all services were made available at one centre, they could also help traumatised abuse survivors, she added.

According to CGPU's Ms Mosotho, gender rights campaigns have encouraged people to report abuse, and "the sensitisation of the people [by] the unit to raise awareness of their rights and the responsibility of reporting rape" has contributed to the jump in the number of rape cases this year.

"Before these campaigns, rape was viewed as a family issue that, even when a family member raped another, the matter was dealt at the family level," Ms Mosotho commented. "However, people now understand that ... fathers cannot father their [own grand]children, as was the case before."

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