Hesperian Health Guides

Community actions to support survivors

Movements to end gender-based violence usually start with finding ways to help survivors. For example, people create shelters and rape crisis centers to help women escape from abuse. Places such as drop-in centers or cafes can be set up where LGBT people can go and be safe, avoid violence, or just feel accepted. When people targeted by gender-based violence are safe from immediate harm, the community might go on to help create long-term plans for ongoing protection, healing and independence.

Support survivors to escape domestic violence

Supporting women to escape violent relationships can save lives. Share these steps with other women, and ask that they share them with any woman who might be in danger:

Before violence happens again, tell someone nearby about it. Ask that person to come or to get help if she hears that you are in trouble. Perhaps a neighbor, a male relative, or a group of women or men can come before you are seriously hurt. Think of a special word or signal that will tell your children or someone else in your family to get help. Teach your children how to get to a safe place.

When a man becomes violent, try to move to or stay in a place where there are no weapons or objects he can use to harm you, and where you can get away. Do whatever you need to do to calm him down so you and your children are safe. If you need to get away from him, think about how you can escape. Where is the safest place to go?

Get ready to leave. Save money any way you can. Put money in a safe place away from the house. If possible, open a bank account in your own name. Try to do other things to become more independent, such as making friends, joining a group, or spending more time with your family.

Find out if there are "safe houses" or other services nearby for women who have been abused. Learn how these services might help you. Ask friends or relatives you trust if they would let you stay with them or lend you money. Be sure they will not tell your abuser that you asked, or where you went.

Get copies of important documents, such as your and your children’s identification papers. Leave money, copies of your documents, and extra clothes with someone you trust, so you can leave quickly. If you can do it safely, practice your escape plan with your children to see if it would work. Make sure the children will not tell anyone. (See Where Women Have No Doctor.)

Health workers support survivors of sexual violence

Health workers can organize and participate in all kinds of activities to stop violence, but it is especially important that they support victims of gender-based violence who have been beaten, raped, or abused. In addition to healing injuries, a health worker can refer the victim to other community resources, such as support groups and shelters.

A woman who wants to press charges against an abuser or a rapist needs to document the injuries or other harm caused by violence. Health workers should know how to do this, along with taking care of the woman’s health needs. (See Where Women Have No Doctor, for more details.)

a blank report with sections as labeled below.
Patient's Statement:


To provide the most respectful care for survivors of sexual violence:

  • If the victim is female, make sure a female health worker examines her.
  • Keep victims’ names and other information private, and tell them you will not share the information with others.
  • Provide a comforting, accessible place where victims can report a rape or attack, and take care not to blame them for any violence they have suffered.
  • Explain emergency contraception (EC) and help the woman use it if she chooses.
  • If necessary, offer medicines to prevent infection from STIs, including HIV.
a health worker speaking.
Sometimes you may work with patients of different sexual and gender orientations than you are used to — people who are more masculine or feminine than you might expect, or people who are attracted to people of their own gender. If you are not sure of what gender your patient identifies as, you may want to politely ask what name they use and if they have a preferred gender pronoun, and then make sure to use it. They have the same right to dignity, privacy, and care as anyone else!

Peer support groups

People who have survived violence or rape need support from their families and communities. Unfortunately, survivors of violence — especially rape survivors — are often rejected and stigmatized. Solidarity with those who have experienced violence is a powerful way to lessen the harm, especially its lasting effects.

4 women expressing support for a 5th woman.
It is not your fault.
We believe you.
Violence in a family is never OK.
You can heal.

No one understands the struggles abused women face better than other survivors. When women come together in a peer support group, they feel less alone. They can tell their stories without fear of judgment. They can also share coping strategies and information about where to get help.

The same is true for LGBT people who have been beaten, raped, or abused due to their sexuality or their gender identity. By meeting with others who have had similar experiences, people who have suffered violence can understand they are not alone, learn from each other, and find the strength and power they need to heal.

Support survivors of armed conflict

In wars and other violent conflicts, when groups of men compete for power over territory, resources, and other forms of property, women and children become targets for sexual attack. Increasingly, men use rape and other forms of sexual abuse as a weapon to terrorize, humiliate, and dominate a rival group.

In communities devastated by armed conflict, women are often left out of decisions and plans for recovery and rebuilding — especially if people know they were sexually abused during the conflict. You can help women organize by giving them opportunities to meet each other, tell their stories, receive health care, and work together to plan for the future. When survivors become community leaders, their experience can strengthen efforts to prevent further violence.