Sexual and Gender-Based Violence: 'We share strength among ourselves'

Mercy Githara works in an MSF clinic for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in Nairobi, Kenya. 

Mercy Githara

My name is Mercy Githara. I am a clinical psychologist working for MSF France since September 2015. I care for SGBV survivors - that is survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. Usually I see complex cases. 

Complex cases include people who have been gang-raped or assaulted several times, children who have been molested, women who are pregnant as a result of a rape. All go through intense trauma. Because these are sensitive cases, we want to keep seeing them after their initial medical treatment for a psychological follow-up.

We also see refugees, women and men fleeing war torn countries. On top of offering psychological support, we refer them to agencies that can provide shelter and livelihood support, plus protection and security. 

I must say that traumatic cases often happen in my line of duty. Sometimes you think you’ve heard the most horrific story possible, but then something worse comes up.

I have listened to people who had been tortured during the assault, sometimes raped with an object. And then there are the children. These innocent creatures often don’t understand what they have been through. 

Our team is here to listen to the stories that other people might not want to listen to

It is difficult for me to come to terms with such cases, and to accept that this is happening within our society. But I am here to help the survivors - I first have to be strong so that I can make them stronger. We share strength among ourselves. We also do peer supervision, so if a case is really wearing you down you can speak to somebody without breach of the patient’s confidentiality. 

The way a survivor will cope following a sexual assault is always different depending on the person. Some survivors don’t show up for the psychological follow-ups, either because they can’t make the time or because they are not sure about talking as a therapy.

However some survivors ask for extra sessions because they have realised how it can help them work through their issues.

Our psychological services are part of the healing process as we help survivors of sexual violence to move forward with their lives. Our team is here to listen to the stories that other people out there might not want to listen to.