This study sought to understand the experiences of survivors of sexual violence in Kenya as they accessed mental health services. Survivors’ experiences are vital to document and have important advocacy and policy implications related to the provision of mental health services and survivor-centered care within their communities.
Sexual violence affects millions of people of all genders and ages and is a critical global health challenge. It shatters the lives of victims and remains one of the most underreported and under prosecuted crimes in the world. The stigma is often enough to keep survivors from seeking medical treatment, let alone demanding justice. In Kenya, 45 percent of women and girls aged 15-49 years have reported experiencing physical violence at least once in their lifetime, and 14 percent have reported experiencing sexual violence, with many cases going unreported.i ii Such violence has a profound impact on an individual’s social functioning and physical and mental health. Access to quality mental health care for survivors of sexual violence has been a major challenge. However, the government and other stakeholders should no longer delay providing high-quality mental health care access, as the true price of failure is counted in discarded ambitions, family separation, prolonged sickness, dysfunctional relationships, and ruined lives.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has led a project since 2020 to strengthen mental health care and forensic psychological evidence collection in Kenya. The project aims to improve sexual violence survivors’ access to mental health care and build local capacity to document forensic psychological evidence to support legal cases. It also advocates for the reform of policies to ensure survivors nationwide can access critical mental health care and forensic documentation. Through the project, PHR has sought to improve how sexual violence survivors in Kenya will be able to access mental health care, forensic documentation, and justice. The project also sought to improve healthcare facilities’ capacity to offer comprehensive mental health care to sexual violence survivors through implementation of specialized policies, standard operating procedures, and health care protocols. Lastly, the project has aimed to advocate for the reform and implementation of key policies to ensure sexual violence survivors have access to mental health care and comprehensive forensic psychological documentation to support accountability processes.
Following the implementation of this project, we sought to understand the experiences of the survivors when accessing these services. PHR believes that engagement with survivors should not only be empowering but should also provide as much direct benefit to the survivors as possible. To ensure that these survivor-centered values were reflected in this process, Photovoice was selected as a participatory approach to uplift the voices of community members not traditionally represented in research and evaluation.