Senior Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Elizabeth Ferdinand (left) in conversation with Medical Officer of Health at the Warrens Polyclinic, Heather Harewood; Guidance Counsellor of St. Lucy Secondary School Pastor Saul Leacock and Senior Health Sister at the Black Rock Polyclinic, Anne Murrell at the start of the?? Ministry of Health/United Nations Population Fund workshop "Development of a medical Protocol for the Managment and Treatment of Survivors of Sexual Assault"?? at the United Nations House, Hastings Christ Church.

The role of health care providers in managing and treating survivors of sexual abuse has become more complex and multi-faceted.

Chief Medical Officer of Health (CMO), Dr. Joy St. John made this assertion today as she addressed a workshop on "The Development of A Medical Protocol for the Management and Treatment of Survivors of Sexual Abuse" at the United Nations House, Hastings, Christ Church.

Acknowledging that victims suffered deeply from their experience and were fraught with conflicting emotional, psychological and traumatic consequences, Dr. St. John said, "victims are typically non-responsive as a result of the fear of retribution by the perpetrator, or ridicule from family members, and a perceived lack of confidence in the ???system’."

Health-care providers, along with counsellors, police and lawyers, attending the workshop, were therefore urged to seek "ways of extracting information, while simultaneously meeting the complex needs of the survivor at this critical time".

The CMO stated: "Survivors of sexual abuse must be made to feel comfortable in the knowledge that appropriate systems are in place to address their needs. We must engage communities and families, in order to help them to know what to do and where to go for help.

"We must equip our staff with the tools to allow them to approach this issue with sensitivity. Our demonstrated professionalism will go a long way towards improving public confidence, while sensitising them to the damaging and devastating effects of sexual abuse and violence."

While noting that the socio-economic and health impact of sexual violence on survivors was far reaching and reverberated throughout society, the top medical official noted: "At a national level, the economic cost is felt in direct terms through the emergency responses and medical treatment, law enforcement, judicial and social services. Hence, every time a person is sexually abused, it becomes a societal problem and not just an individual concern."

And, she called for government and non-governmental organisations to collaborate in finding strategies and programmes geared towards generating community and family responses and urged them to provide an effective and appropriate support system for the survivor.

Referring to statistics provided by Attorney and advocate of children’s rights and social justice, Jacqueline Sealy-Burke, the CMO revealed that in the Caribbean, the rate of sexual violence surpassed the global average, with the region’s criminal assizes reflecting that one in three of all offences was of a sexual nature.

"Most cases involved women and children, with an alarmingly high number of child sexual abuse cases," she indicated, pointing out that in Barbados, during the past five years, the Child Care Board received 4,412 referrals of child abuse."

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