Possible exposure to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections is one of many considerations survivors have to process while coping with trauma sexual assault. We join our colleagues around the country in recognizing Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This April, we support actions to create a world without sexual violence as part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s (HHS) mission to enhance the health and well-being of all Americans. Until we achieve this vision, it is important for all Americans to know the tools to prevent the spread of HIV after sexual assault.
Postexposure prophylaxis, or PEP means taking medicine to prevent HIV after a possible exposure. PEP may be appropriate to prevent an HIV infection after a possible exposure, such as during a sexual assault. To be effective however, an individual must begin taking PEP as soon as possible— and always within 72 hours of the possible exposure. Every hour counts!
Victims’ advocates, public health and policy professionals, health care providers, and any individual impacted by sexual assault should be aware of all the tools available to support sexual assault survivors, including PEP. Throughout April, including on Denim Day, we are working to raise awareness of PEP and its ability to help protect survivors from HIV.
We urge all health care providers, including those in emergency departments, non-emergency clinics, community wellness centers, and primary care practices to know the facts about PEP and be prepared to care for survivors within the necessary timeframe.
“PEP has the potential to prevent an exposed individual from acquiring HIV, helping to ease the difficult path to recovery of survivors,” said Judith Steinberg, Chief Medical Officer, HHS Office of Infectious Disease Policy. “It’s important for health care providers to know about and prescribe this critical medication regimen, which can serve as a tool for survivors to begin to regain control over their health after an assault.”
Quickly connecting survivors with mental and physical health support services is important for recovery from sexual violence. Stigma can prevent some survivors from seeking medical care or professional help. Given the limited time within which PEP needs to be started to be effective, we must work together to promote a culture that rapidly supports survivors and creates communities where survivors feel safe to seek both medical and support services. PEP is an important HIV prevention tool for survivors who may have been recently exposed to HIV.
Comprehensive sexual health education is needed to help foster healthy relationships and end the culture of intimate partner violence and sexual assault to realize a world without sexual violence. We need to stand up to the stigma that causes survivors additional trauma and prevents them from seeking timely care.
As we strive for a world free of sexual, domestic, and interpersonal violence, we stand with survivors, victim advocates, health care providers, and all those raising their voices to end sexual violence.