Written by Kendal Flowerdew
Kendal is a Senior at Sarah Lawrence College and will graduate in May, 2019
The Me Too Movement was founded in 2006 by Tarana Burke in an effort to support young women of color who were survivors of sexual violence. As the movement gained momentum, they expanded their mission to support adults and people across the gender spectrum. In 2017, the Me Too Movement went viral with the hashtag #MeToo being used in support of survivors of sexual violence. Because of this sudden explosion of support, the #MeToo Movement was able to expand their platform and continue national conversations around sexual violence, in both the United States and abroad. While the Me Too Movement is often associated with “taking down powerful men or targeting individuals,” this is not the purpose of the organization. They want to support survivors of sexual violence and give them access to a “healing journey.” By the exchanging of the words “me too,” people are telling survivors that “I hear you, I see you, and I believe you.” In addition, they began a movement for radical community healing, where communities come together to make them safer for everyone and to protect the vulnerable members from sexual violence. They want to work against all the ways that have allowed sexual violence to flourish in our communities.
As part of community healing, I believe that work needs to be done to improve the medical care and treatment of survivors of sexual assault. A recent study by Priyanka Amin, Raquel Buranosky, and Judy C. Chang revealed what physicians see as their role in sexual assault care and the barriers they face in providing care. They stated two main categories of roles: clinical tasks and interpersonal role. Clinical tasks was further divided into “(1) screening patients for sexual assault, (2) completing and documenting a history and physician exam, (3) conducting a forensic exam by completing a ‘rape kit’…(4) providing appropriate treatment for injuries and sexually transmitted infections as well as emergency contraception, (5) providing referrals to sexual assault experts, sexual assault crisis lines, women’s shelters, and/or mental health professions” (Pg 5). Interpersonal roles including educating and providing guidance to survivors, giving survivors support after a disclosure is made, and advocating for patients, both at work and in the community.
The barriers to sexual assault care had three broad categories: internal barriers, physician-patient communication, and system obstacles. Internal barriers included fear of getting a disclosure of sexual assault, emotional burdens of sexual assault management, and personal opinions regarding sexual assault and sexual assault survivors. The physicians in this study described the current approach to the topic of sexual assault survivors is “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” because they felt unprepared or uncomfortable. With managing sexual assault comes feelings of powerlessness and frustration when patients don’t follow up with referrals or plans or when they choose to remain in the abusive relationships. There is also fear of triggering more distress in patients by bringing up the conversation of sexual violence. The preconceived opinions about sexual assault and survivors mostly surrounds difficulty believing report because they suspect ulterior motives for disclosing the information. The physician-patient communication barriers can include language barriers, difficulty helping patients feel comfortable disclosing or discussing sexual assault, and challenges that arise when patients choose not to disclose history of sexual violence. The two system obstacles are time limitations and competing demands. The healthcare system is set to prioritize certain patients over others and for seeing more patients with less time, which puts pressure on physicians to get through patients quickly.
While improving the medical care and treatment of sexual assault survivors will not solve the root of the problem, it can help with physician, mental, and emotional healing. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends that a universal screening process be established for survivors of sexual assault. The American College of Emergency Physicians gives the policy recommendation that hospitals should “address the medical, psychological, safety, and legal needs of the sexually assaulted patient.” The plan set by the hospital for care should include counseling services and specifically address concerns about pregnancy and the treatment of sexually transmitted disease. In addition, systemic changes need to be made to address the problems of lack of time and competing priorities. With changes to the medical care and facilities, training for physicians should be required to address sexual violence. This will improve physician comfortability and competence regarding the topic. The training should specifically address communication skills, dealing with emotion, and understanding trauma.
Overall, the medical care of sexual assaults survivors by physicians is a point of concern that needs to be addressed in order to help survivors on their “healing journey.” The #MeToo Movement began in support of young survivors of sexual violence and has grown into a much larger organization providing support for many others. The medical community can help with the mission of the #MeToo Movement by providing exceptional, compassionate care to the survivors of sexual assault.
Me Too Movement . “You Are Not Alone.” Me Too, metoomvmt.org/home.
Amin, Priyanka, Raquel Buranosky, and Judy C. Chang. “Physician’s Perceived Roles, as Well as Barriers, towards Caring for Women Sex Assault Survivors.” Women’s health issues : official publication of the Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health 27.1 (2017): 43–49. PMC. Web. 12 Oct. 2018.