Have you heard about gynecological and obstetric violence? Perhaps through a loved one or through a testimony on social networks. The increase in the number of victims of GBV (Gynecological and Obstetrical Violence) speaking out has brought this issue to the forefront. However, the complexity of the issue slows down the process of change. That’s why this article aims to explain what it is, and to share with you the experiences of victims. You will also have the opportunity to read the testimony of a young woman who, despite her age, has already suffered gynecological violence.

What is meant by gynecological and obstetrical violence?

Many testimonies, partly on social networks, have brought gynecological and obstetrical violence to the forefront. The media coverage of this problem has increased thanks to the mobilization of victims, associations and feminist movements. The liberation of the word on this violence against women has led to a questioning of medical practices in gynecology and obstetrics. Nevertheless, GBV remains a subject of debate. Since it affects the female population and the medical profession, it is complex to define and examine. However, we will try to give the best definition possible.
According to Marie-Hélène Lahaye, obstetrical violence is “any behavior, act, omission or abstention committed by health personnel, which is not medically justified and/or which is carried out without the free and informed consent of the pregnant woman or parturient. It is inferred that two components are essential to understanding GBV: lack of consent and lack of medical justification.

Thus, an act performed during childbirth, gynecological follow-up or following childbirth that has not been explained, justified or consented to by the woman concerned is violence. It seems to me that it is essential that you have a precise and clear idea of what a VGO is. That is why I insist on this definition.
To return to the justification, the medical actions taken must be based on a knowledge of the rules and imperatives of medicine. The subjectivity of the health care personnel must not be taken into account. For example, traditions or rituals are not allowed if they are not based on evidence. As for consent, it refers to a specific law: the Kouchner law. This 2002 law sets the legal framework for consent in France. It allows the law to be imposed in any medical act and to protect the patients. As previously mentioned, many actors are involved. All health personnel are concerned. Whether gynecologists, obstetricians, nurses, midwives, nurses’ aides… Everyone involved is taken into account. In addition, the violence can touch on different themes: contraception, disregard for pain or sexism.

What are the consequences for the woman victim of GBV?

It is important to know that there is a real taboo about GBV. There are several reasons for this silence.
To begin with, social norms play a large role in the silence of victims, and particularly mothers. Indeed, pregnancy and motherhood are commonly seen as a blessing, a happiness that allows people to blossom. However, the reality is quite different, many mothers suffer and go through many difficulties that are silenced.
The second reason is social decorum, the desire not to shock, not to break the taboo. Especially during childbirth, there is a real veil over what actually happens in the room. A young mother will not dare to say which practice may have hurt her. For fear of shocking her by speaking realistically about what she undergoes. Finally, there is the impossibility of questioning the medical authority. The medical profession has great influence and authority. Despite the abuse and neglect that mothers may experience, the heroic view of the medical profession persists.

If they dare to speak up and talk about the violence that was done to them, they are often made to feel guilty. Given the image of the medical profession, they are not believed and feel guilty about accusing a staff member who has allowed them to give life. They accuse her of lying. She becomes the aggressor while the medical profession becomes the victim that is accused without proof. The roles are reversed. She may then feel guilt and shame, which has a considerable impact on her well-being. This suffering adds to the trauma she has already experienced.
GBV also has a great impact on the self-esteem of these women. Mainly for childbirth, a bad experience causes a decrease in self-esteem. More specifically, the lack of explanation, listening, understanding, caring and consent affects self-esteem. The lack of communication between the caregivers and the woman is largely responsible for this decrease. They do not feel listened to, nor taken into account during their delivery. This has a strong impact on their experience of childbirth and their self-esteem.

The testimony of a young woman victim of VGO

She is 18 years old, and experienced her first gynecological violence at the age of 16. During her first steps as a young woman, she was abused in many ways. Disregard for pain, lack of justification for medical acts, denigrating remarks, lack of listening, lack of consideration… the list is long. She lived through these significant events 2 years ago, but the traces are still present. We didn’t believe her, we denied her suffering. She was made to feel guilty, as were many other victims of GBV.
“I thought I was crazy, that it was my fault. She came to believe that the gynecologists were right, and resigned herself to following their instructions to end her suffering. Later, it was discovered that her pain was legitimate and that she had endometriosis. This discovery helped her to be taken seriously after 2 chaotic years. However, this history of gynecological violence has left its mark on her. She no longer goes to the gynecologist for fear of reliving the same violence. The consequences are such that she has lost all confidence in them.

This young woman is not the only one, other victims are subjected to all kinds of violence. Sometimes without even being aware of it. It is time to untie the tongues, to share to prevent. If you want to hear another testimony I highly recommend Lucie’s podcast episode “I almost never woke up” (episode 117) from Bliss.Stories. It perfectly illustrates the point of this article. It is interesting, moving and very well constructed. You’ll have to listen to it soon!