March 2018 — In Benin, nearly 70 percent of women will be victims of gender-based violence in their lifetimes. As in most of the world, the majority of these crimes will go unreported. This is where the One Stop Care Centers step in to provide survivors with a place to receive comprehensive, survivor-centered care.
“We are here to help victims and hold perpetrators accountable,” says Pélagie Houndodjade, seated at her office in the One Stop Care Center in Parakou, Benin’s second largest city. Every day, Houndodjade provides services to survivors, some of whom visit the center directly and others who have been referred to the center by law enforcement, social services or the hospital.
There are presently three One Stop Care Centers established by the Government of Benin with the financial and advocacy support of USAID. The centers are designed to provide medical, psychosocial and legal services to victims of gender-based violence. By giving women and girls a venue for bringing criminal complaints and receiving treatment, the goal is for more survivors to come forward, thereby reducing the stigma preventing women from speaking out.
Houndodjade recognizes that the road ahead is long and will be difficult, “There is still a tendency to keep these crimes within the community,” she says. “Even some law enforcement officers prefer to treat these crimes as domestic affairs rather than bring a criminal complaint.”
Yet the Parakou center has seen some successes as well. In October 2017, a 16-year-old girl ran away from her family upon learning that she would be forced to marry an older man. She sought counsel from Houndodjade, who worked with the police department to file a criminal complaint and prevent the marriage.
That same month, after a man beat his young wife, Houndodjade provided the woman emergency medical care and lodging in a safe house, as well as guidance on the woman’s rights and options for escaping her violent husband.
With an eye toward sustainability, USAID continues to advocate for increased investment in the One Stop Care Centers. As the USAID funding phase concluded in 2017, government investment is needed to ensure that Houndodjade and others like her can continue to provide this essential care, and that gender-based violence survivors become a priority in Benin.
Through USAID’s EMPOWER II activity, the three One Stop Care Centers treated and counseled more than 2,000 gender-based violence cases from 2014 to 2017, over half of which were referred to the justice system. The activity trains national and local service providers to ensure victims of gender-based violence have access to medical, psychosocial and legal services in one place. Through this approach, the activity reduces the likelihood that victims will be lost in the system by being routed from one government agency to another, and reduces the impacts of recurring trauma, which is essential in treatment and recovery.
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