Today’s guest post is written by Beth Jackson, one of the Information Assistants at St George’s Library, and marks this year’s Sexual Health Week (14th-20th September). The campaign run by the Family Planning Association aims to inform the public, influence service providers and support health professionals in practice. Outside her role at St George’s Library, Beth has been volunteering for a women’s sexual health charity and shares her experience below.
My Body Back was launched in August 2014 by Pavan Amara, who having experienced sexual violence as a teenager found herself unable to access ordinary health services. While the counselling and support she received helped her get back on her feet after the assault, she found she had developed issues with her body image, being unable to look in mirrors or have photos taken. This subsequently drastically affected her ability to go to the doctor. With clinical examinations too closely reminding her of the forensic testing she underwent; she found it impossible to be touched by health professionals.
Convinced she couldn’t be the only person facing these difficulties, Pavan conducted interviews with women who were also feeling cut off from basic health services as a result of their assault. This prompted her to set up the My Body Back Project, which has had an incredibly exciting first year. With a number of exciting projects already underway, including sexual wellbeing workshops and creative writing sessions, I specifically wanted to share the fantastic changes we are implementing within women’s health care. Alongside NHS staff at Barts Health NHS Trust on the 6th August this year we officially began taking bookings for our MBB Clinic, quite possibly the world’s first specialised cervical screening and contraceptive care clinic. It has been designed specifically to meet the needs of women who have experienced sexual violence and to improve access to vital health services. Users of the service will be offered an introductory session with a sexual violence health adviser to discuss how the appointments will run and will then be able to specify every detail of their examination, from body positions or phrases they’d prefer to avoid, to music to help them relax. Alongside the cervical screening, the STI clinic is also patient-led, users wishing to remain anonymous will be provided with a private space to carry out the test themselves (with the aid of a video guide) and can have the results texted to a mobile phone. Many women have been put off seeking a test after experiencing sexual violence because of concerns about being pressured into reporting the assault to the police. It’s hoped that these facilities will help encourage women to put their health first by giving them complete choice and autonomy over their bodies and we’re now working with regional NHS trusts to set the clinics up nationwide.
The student body at St George’s have also had a part to play in supporting the project. In March we launched our Notes of Love campaign, in which we are gathering hundreds of supportive messages from the public, all addressed to women who have experienced sexual violence. Having collected over 1,000 notes at the Women of the World festival, these wonderful messages of support and compassion have gone on display at the entrance of Rape Crisis Centres and The Havens Centres across London. We subsequently had 20 universities across the UK sign up to support us, including St George’s, and the SGUL Gender Equality society took the reins and collected a brilliant 216 notes that have now been sent on to centres around South London and will impact women within the local community. We’ve now taken the campaign to Twitter – if you’d like to support us too you can tweet a note to us using the #NotesOfLove hashtag and your contribution will also go on display.
If you are interested in further reading on similar topics, or on women’s health in general, the Library has a wide selection of resources to support you in your research. Please take a look at a selection of the available resources below, or use Hunter to carry out your own searches.
To find further information on My Body Back Project, including details of the Café V sexual wellbeing workshops, creative writing sessions and the MBB Clinic you can:
Visit the website: http://www.mybodybackproject.com/
or follow them on Twitter: @MyBodyBackProj