Throughout this knowledge module, reference to certain provisions or sections of a piece of legislation, part of a legal judgment, or aspect of a practice does not imply that the legislation, judgment, or practice is considered in its entirety to be a good example or a promising practice.

Some of the laws cited herein may contain provisions which authorize the death penalty. In light of the United Nations General Assembly resolutions 62/14963/16865/206, and 67/176 calling for a moratorium on and ultimate abolition of capital punishment, the death penalty should not be included in sentencing provisions for crimes of violence against women and girls.

Other Provisions Related to Domestic Violence LawsResources for Developing Legislation on Domestic Violence
Sexual Harassment in Sport Tools for Drafting Sexual Harassment Laws and Policies
Immigration Provisions Resources for developing legislation on sex trafficking of women and girls
Child Protection Provisions Resources on Forced and Child Marriage
Other provisions related to dowry-related and domestic violence laws
Related Tools

Rights of Survivors

Last edited: January 11, 2011

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  • Legislation should provide that survivors have the right not to be discriminated against, at any step of the process, because of race, gender, or sexual orientation. (See: UN Handbook, 3.1.3.)
  • Legislation should provide that survivors may have access, free of cost, to a sexual assault survivor advocate, who will be available to assist at all steps of the legal and forensic process.
  • Legislation should provide that sexual assault survivor advocates may not disclose any opinion or information received from or about the victim without the consent of the victim. See: Law of Minnesota, USA, §595.02 (2009).
  • Legislation should require advocates and all providers of sexual assault services to inform victims about the importance of the collection of blood and urine samples to aid in the prosecution of a drug facilitated sexual assault.
  • Legislation should require that victims of sexual assault may not be prosecuted for underage drinking, drug use, or outstanding warrants, in order to remove barriers to reporting sexual assault.
  • Legislation on criminal procedure and reporting mechanisms should be examined for sensitivity to victims and with the aim of preventing repetitive and cumbersome procedural requirements to reporting sexual assaults that constitute barriers to victims. Illustrative Example: The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights found that in Mesoamerica, victims must often make repeated, lengthy trips to file complaints and to follow up on them. In some parts of the regions a victim must also complete certain preliminary formalities before the criminal complaint can be filed. They found that she often needs an attorney to participate, which is another significant barrier to the many victims who cannot afford to hire an attorney. Additionally, the Commission found that in some countires, the victim may have to give at least five depositions in order to proceed with the case, which the Commission considered “a serious form of re-victimization.” They recommended that the countries of Mesoamerica develop protocols based on the rights of the victim which reduce re-victimization, and that public officials be trained in proper application of the protocols, in order to improve women’s access to justice in cases of sexual violence The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in Access to Justice for Women Victims of Sexual Violence in Mesoamerica (2012).
  • Legislation should provide for programmes to support victims throughout the legal process. In many states such programmes are located in the government’s prosecutorial section.  

Examples: The Crown Prosecution Services of the United Kingdom offers Witness Care Units to facilitate contact with victims and witnesses and provide a continuous review of their needs throughout the court process. The Crown Prosecution Service also offers detailed, easy-to-understand information on Reporting a Crime, Going to Court, Special Help for Vulnerable Witnesses, Resources for Victims and Witnesses, Giving a Personal Statement, and Information for Young Victims and Witnesses.

  • Legislation should provide survivors with free legal assistance in all court proceedings, with free court support, free access to interpreters and free translation of legal documents, where requested or required.

Example: The Rape Victim Assistance and Protection Act (1998)of Philippines, Guanzon, Rowena V., “Laws on Violence against Women in the Philippines,” Expert paper prepared for the Expert Group Meeting on good practices in legislation on violence against women 2008), p.12.

  • Legislation should provide for a comprehensive range of health services which address the physical and mental consequences of the sexual assault which is available within one day’s travel to all citizens.

Example: in Africa for Women’s Rights: Ratify and Respect! Dossier of Claims (2010), which summarizes the statutory laws, customary laws, traditions, and practices on women’s human rights in over thirty African countries, the authors noted that the unavailability of medical personnel contributed to the low rate of reporting of rape in some countries.

  • Legislation should require that a full range of free-of charge psychosocial care is available to all victims. Care options should include group therapies, one-on-one therapy and counseling, and psychological care techniques for victims of traumatic events. In addition, legislation should include requirement of specialized psychosocial techniques particularly suited to minor victims of sexual assault. (See: Harris and Freccero, Human Rights Center, University of California Berkeley, Sexual Violence: Medical and Psychosocial Support (2011).

Examples: Brazil provides psychological assistance to sexual assault victims for as long as necessary as part of emergency medical care. Sweden’s approach is to provide financial and psychological support via local municipalities not only for victims but also for their next of kin. See: Brown and Loeffler for TrustLaw, Achieving Justice for Victims of Rape and Advancing Women’s Rights (2011) p.30.

  • Legislation should provide that victims who are minors have full access to a comprehensive range of free-of-charge health services which address the physical and mental consequences of the sexual assault without the consent of any other person. Legislation should state that a minor must not be coerced or intimidated into having an examination by family or other individuals.
  • Legislation should provide that access to victim support services need not occur within a particular time frame and that access is not conditional in any respect.
  • Legislation should provide regular funding for non-governmental organizations which offer support services to victims of sexual assault.
  • Legislation should provide that refugee and internally-displaced victims have full access to a comprehensive range of free-of-charge health care services with protocols specially designed for the especially vulnerable status of these victims.

Example: The Amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code (2006) of Austria entitles victims of sexual offences or dangerous threats, and their intimate partner or relative who was a witness to the offence, to psychosocial and legal assistance. The Code also authorizes funding to support court accompaniment for victims.

  • Legislation should provide that the costs of medical examination to gather and preserve evidence for criminal sexual conduct shall be paid for by a local government body in which the sexual assault occurred. (See: Sexual Offences Act (2003) of Lesotho, Part VI, 21 (1).)
  • Legislation should provide for cost-free and unconditional tests for sexually transmitted diseases, for emergency contraception, pregnancy tests, abortion services, or post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to all victims of sexual assault, including minor victims of sexual assault. (See: Division of Reproductive Health, Government of Kenya, National Guidelines Medical Management of Rape/Sexual Violence (2004), p. 7.)

Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is “short-term antiretroviral treatment to reduce the likelihood of HIV infection after potential exposure, either occupationally or through sexual intercourse.” From: World Health Organization. (See: Stefiszyn, “A Brief Overview of Recent Developments in Sexual Offences Legislation in Southern Africa,” Expert paper prepared for the Expert Group Meeting on good practices in legislation on violence against women, May 2008.)

Example: the law of Minnesota, USA, states that hospitals must offer information and services to all female sexual assault victims on emergency contraception:

(a) It shall be the standard of care for all hospitals that provide emergency care to, at a minimum:

(1) provide each female sexual assault victim with medically and factually accurate and unbiased written and oral information about emergency contraception from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and distributed to all hospitals by the Department of Health;

(2) orally inform each female sexual assault victim of the option of being provided with emergency contraception at the hospital; and

(3) immediately provide emergency contraception to each sexual assault victim who requests it provided it is not medically contraindicated and is ordered by a legal prescriber…Minn.Stat.§145.4712 (2009).




A study in Zambia found that with training police could effectively provide sexual assault survivors with emergency contraception and refer survivors to health facilities. Reports of sexual violence increased by as much as 48 percent during some years of the study. See: Keesbury et al., The Copperbelt Model of Integrated Care for Survivors of Rape and Defilement (2009).

The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act (No. 32) of South Africa provides that when a survivor reports a sexual assault to the police or a medical practitioner, the survivor must be informed of the importance of obtaining PEP within 72 hours of the assault and of the need to obtain information about sexually transmitted diseases. Ch. 5, 28 (3).


CASE  STUDY: With training, refugees can successfully treat fellow refugees with PTSD in a refugee setting. Post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) is a common effect of sexual assault. A 2008 study demonstrated that treatment by lay counselors in a refugee settlement in Uganda is effective in reducing symptoms of PTSD. The researchers noted the difficulty of treating victims in conflict or refugee settings who continue to live in an unsafe environment and have often experienced more than one traumatic event. Nonetheless, narrative exposure therapy, in which victims relate their life stories and explore in detail the trauma they have experienced in this context, proved effective when counseled by lay counselors who were refugees in the community themselves. The counselors had no background in medical or psychosocial training but received a 6-week training course in general counseling skills. An important part of the therapy, highly valued by participants, was generating a autobiography (written by the counselor) which transformed an originally fragmented report of the violent experiences into a coherent narrative. The participant received a copy of his or her autobiography at the last session. This study shows that low-resource states can address the psychosocial needs of survivors of violence. See: Neuner et. Al., Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder by Trained Lay Counselors in an African Refugee Settlement: A Randomized Controlled Trial, Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 76(4): 686 - 694. (2008). Available in English.

Amnesty International, Six-point Checklist on Justice for Violence Against Women (2010). The checklist is organized by steps that victims must take in order to report a crime and seek redress through the criminal justice system. It also identifies laws, policies and practices which still need to be reformed and other obstacles to the successful implementation of the legal framework. Available in Arabic, English, French, Mandarin and Spanish.

South Africa provides a guide for victims entitled “Understanding the Criminal Justice System” which explains the structure of the South African court system, a victim’s rights, and what a victim can expect in court hearings. It defines terms which victims may encounter to aid in their understanding. Available in English, Afrikaans, Zulu, and eight other languages. 

The Manhattan, New York, United States District Attorney’s Office provides a brochure for victims of sexual assault with important guidelines for witnesses and victims regarding their rights. It explains the services offered by the Victim Assistance Center, Property Release Center, Notification Center, Social Services Center, and Counseling Center and gives their locations and hours. Available in English and in Spanish.

Nainar, Vahida, Manual: Litigation Strategies for Sexual Violence in Africa (2012) This Manual examines the different legal options available to a victim/survivor of sexual violence or a rights group on her behalf. The manual outlines three types of legal systems in Africa: the common law system, the civil law system, and Islamic law. It discusses regional and international human rights mechanisms that may apply, including international humanitarian and criminal law. The manual outlines strategies for victim redress through a lens of practicality and gender-sensitivity with the overarching focus on increasing the access to justice for victims of sexual violence by eliminating gaps in knowledge and encouraging them to utilize the national, regional, and international justice system.

World Health Organization and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Clinical Management of Rape Survivors: Developing protocols for use with refugees and internally displaced persons (2004). Available in English, Arabic, and French. This guide provides information and practical steps for addressing the needs of survivors in emergency settings. It provides practical lists of resources, materials, and drugs required, a checklist for examination protocols, and information on how to develop situation-specific protocols. It can be used as a training manual for health care providers.

World Health Organization, “Guidelines for Medico-Legal Care for Victims of Sexual Violence” (2003), available in English.


For a video on the links between violence against women and HIV/AIDS, click here.

Women Won’t Wait Campaign, An Essential Services Package for an integrated response to HIV and Violence Against Women, (2010). This guide outlines services that must be provided by health, law enforcement and legal service providers, and in schools, religious spaces and emergency settings, provides detailed guidance on how each setting can address the intersections and links to additional resources. Available in English.

OSI's Public Health Program, What Works for Women and Girls: Evidence for HIV/AIDS Interventions (2010). This website is a resource for practitioners working on health, HIV and AIDS and related isues. The site is based on a review of literature and data from over 90 countries and provides brief descriptions of evidence-based programming strategies as well as gaps in interventions, and covers key issues including reduction of violence and discrimination against women. Available in English.

World Health Organization, Prevention and treatment of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections for sex workers in low- and middle-income countries: Recommendations for a public health approach (2012). Available in English. This guide provides technical recommendations on effective interventions for the prevention and treatment of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among sex workers and their clients.

CASE STUDY: Multi-country Initiative Found Privacy, Training, and Referrals Improved Health Service Response  

International Planned Parenthood/Western Hemishere Region partnered with organizations in three countries (PLAFAM in Venezuela, PROFAMILIA in the Dominican Republic, and INPPARES in Peru) in organization-wide initiative in 11 health facilities to improve all levels of the response to victims of violence.  Improvements included:

  • Providing private spaces for meeting survivors of violence;
  • A long-term commitment to sensitization and training of clinic staff within a human rights and public health framework; and
  • Providing health facility staff with resources such as referral networks, information, and important tools such as care protocols.

The programme evaluation found that survivors benefited from increased privacy and exposure to services such as legal assistance, counseling, and support groups. The overall quality of women’s health care also improved. Health care providers had more knowledge of good practices on treating victims of violence, evidenced by the providers’ improved ability to detect cases of violence and to provide appropriate and sensitive care. See: Contreas, et.al., Sexual violence in Latin America and the Caribbean: A desk review (2010) p. 62.


Example: The Kenyan Ministry of Health has issued National Guidelines calling for the provision of PEP to victims of rape free of charge. See: Division of Reproductive Health, Government of Kenya, National Guidelines Medical Management of Rape/Sexual Violence (2004)

Example: The United Kingdom and Norway have called for non-restriction of all countries’ humanitarian funds to ensure that abortions are part of medical treatment for women raped in war. See: Global Justice Center, United Kingdom Pledges to Ensure Abortion Access For Women Raped in War (16 January 2012).


  • Legislation should provide for confidentiality of the survivor. She should have the right to request that law enforcement withhold her identity from the public and media. Legislation should give the prosecutor or judge the discretion not to disclose identifying information about a witness or survivor.
  • Legislation should provide for specialized courts or special court procedures which will ensure timely handling of sexual assault cases. (See: UN Handbook, 3.2.5)

Example:The Prevention and Elimination of Violence Against Women and Gender Violence Law (2008) of San Marino provides that “[t]he examination of the victim in court [in preliminary proceedings] shall take place so as to avoid having to repeat it. To this end, the Investigating Judge shall adopt any appropriate measure, including having the examination videotaped.” Title II, Art.23.

  • Legislation should provide that if the accused is not represented by counsel, the survivor may not be examined, cross-examined, or re-examined by the accused, but must be examined by another person appointed by the court. Legislation should also provide that the court may order, in its discretion, that a witness may not be examined, cross-examined, or re-examined by the accused, but may be examined by another person appointed by the court. (See: Respect, Protect and Fulfill: Legislating for Women’s Rights in the Context of HIV/AIDS (2009), Volume 1 Module 1, p. 1-38.)
  • Legislation should provide that if testimony by alternate means is not feasible, the survivor or witness can attain some protection within the structure of the court appearance. Examples include: Police escorts to and from the hearings, shielding the survivor’s appearance from the offender, separate waiting areas, in-camera proceedings, witness protection boxes, closed circuit television, etc. See: UN Handbook 3.9.4, Model Strategies 7(c) p. 31.
  • Research indicates that survivors who are given protection in court such as screens or video links are able to give evidence they would not otherwise have been able to give, experience less trauma, and are more likely to cooperate with prosecutors. See: Kelly, Promising practices in addressing sexual violence (2005) App. 1.


The Amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code (2006) of Austria allows certain witnesses and victims who are very young or vulnerable to be questioned using audio and visual transmissions so they may not be re-victimized. § 165, § 250.

Under Article 68 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, a number of explicit protections are offered to victims of sexual violence in the courtroom, including requiring judges to prevent harassment and intimidation of victims on the stand and allowing female witnesses and victims to have a support person, legal representative, or family member present during their testimony.  In addition, victims do not have to testify in the presence of the aggressor- they may utilize closed hearings or video hearings, or voice-and-image-altering technology to protect their identity. See:  Danya Chaikel, Does gender matter at the International Criminal Court?  The Hague Justice Portal, (8 Mar 2011). Available in English.


  • Legislation should provide that children may be assisted by a third party such as a counselor or psychologist, or a family member if there is no conflict of interest.

Example: Brazil’s Statute of the Child and Adolescent (1990) states that the legal representative of the child must accompany him during the court interview and testimony; if there is a conflict of interest a special curator will be court-appointed to assist the minor. Article 142.

Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Sexual Violence Justice Institute, Tips For Testifying As A Witness (2010). This fact sheet provides tips to help witnesses know what to expect and how to act in a courtroom setting.

UNICEF/Asociación por los Derechos Civiles, Guia de buenos practices para el abordaje judicial de niños, niñas, adolescents victimas o testigos de violencia, abuso sexual y otros delitos (2010). This guide is for judicial personnel and other professionals working with child and adolescent victims and witnesses of violence in justice processes. The guide comprises three sections that cover guiding principles and international standards for working with child and adolescent victims and witnesses; guidance for interviews with children and adolescents, including the rationale, objectives and components of interviews, training and monitoring and infrastructure needed; and specific steps for each phase of the investigation process. Available in Spanish.

Example: The Law on Criminal Procedure (2004) of Montenegro allows for a separate room for victim interrogation in the court process and also that the victim has the right to have the proceedings conducted by a judge of the same sex, if it is possible given the existing composition of court staff. Articles 101(5) and 58(4).

Zero Tolerance, Handle with Care: A guide to responsible media reporting of violence against women (2011). This guide sets forth standards and procedures for reporting on men’s violence against women. Survivors’ perspectives challenge journalists to help change society by reporting men’s violence against women in a more neutral way. Available in English.