Hidden and neglected: The medical and emotional needs of survivors of family and sexual violence in Papua New Guinea

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Executive Summary

This report highlights the urgent, unmet medical and emotional needs of survivors of family and sexual violence in Papua New Guinea and recommends concrete action in order to meet these needs.

Family and sexual violence have long been recognised as an extremely serious problem in Papua New Guinea. Almost twenty years ago a government commissioned study revealed the shocking levels of violence throughout the country. Further studies since then have reached the same conclusion: family and sexual violence in Papua New Guinea is widespread, pervasive, and has a devastating impact on the lives of individuals, families, and communities.

In the last twenty years a great deal of time and resources have been invested in attempts to tackle this issue, yet almost no progress has been made when it comes to providing essential medical and psychosocial care to survivors. Multi-sectoral strategies that have been devised to address the situation have focused on preventing or stopping violence. Whilst this work is commendable, it will take long-term behavioural change across several generations to see a real impact on the ground.

In the meantime, lives are being lost and thousands of women and children are suffering unnecessarily without adequate medical and psychosocial services. Without proper healthcare, survivors of family and sexual violence risk serious long-term physical and emotional harm. Rape survivors are at risk of HIV infection, sexually transmitted diseases, hepatitis B, tetanus and unwanted pregnancies if they do not receive timely, specialised care. Some survivors are at risk of depression, suicidal thoughts and attempts, anxiety, phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder.

These acute needs remain hidden and are neglected by Papua New Guinea’s health facilities. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) / Doctors Without Borders works in Papua New Guinea to address this neglect, providing specialised care for thousands of survivors of sexual, physical and emotional abuse in Lae, Morobe Province and Tari, Southern Highlands/Hela Province. This report presents the experiences of MSF’s patients based on the first hand testimonies of staff and survivors, as well as previously unseen medical data.

MSF’s experience shows that providing quality, specialised care is possible. This report demonstrates that services are needed, used and valued when available. More than anything, it highlights the glaring gaps in services in other parts of the country