I feel for rape survivors, but I don’t have the time, I’m always running. Barriers to accessing post-rape health care in South Africa

Date: February 3, 2014
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South Africa struggles with high rates of both sexual offences and HIV/AIDS. In order to address rape
survivors’ vulnerability to HIV infection as a result of having been raped, the legislature introduced HIVrelated
services when they reformed South Africa’s law on sexual offences. Under the Criminal Law
(Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act 32 of 2007, commonly referred to as the Sexual
Offences Act, rape survivors have the right to receive post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) for HIV, free of
charge at public health care facilities. PEP is an antiretroviral medication which may protect individuals
from HIV transmission if started within 72 hours of exposure to HIV and taken for 28 consecutive days.
The introduction of the right to PEP was a welcome step in strengthening rape survivors’ rights by
addressing their risk of HIV infection as a result of rape. Given that many rape survivors may not know
about PEP or how and where to access it, the implementation of this right depends very much on the
assistance of front-line service providers. The Sexual Offences Act acknowledges this fact by creating
legal duties for both health care workers and police officers to assist rape survivors in accessing the
time sensitive treatment. The policy framework under the Sexual Offences Act concretises the abstract
legal duties of police officers and health care workers by describing the scope and meaning of these
duties in more detail.
In light of these legal developments, the Gender, Health & Justice Research Unit (GHJRU) undertook a
two-year project to examine whether rape survivors are able to access PEP and other post-rape health
care services. In particular, the study aimed to find out what structural barriers, if any, exist when rape
survivors try to make use of these services. The GHJRU therefore undertook a multi-method study with
fieldwork in five provinces – Western Cape; Eastern Cape; Limpopo; Free State; Gauteng – to assess
the implementation of the law on PEP from the perspective of both providers (health care workers
and police officers) and rape survivors. Telephone surveys to different type of health care facilities
tested the accessibility and quality of telephonic information on PEP. Face-to-face interviews with police
officers and health care professionals explored providers’ knowledge of their legal duties and what
practical challenges they face in facilitating access to or administering PEP as well as other post-rape
health services, such as the forensic examination and medical treatment. In order to balance the data
from police officers and health care workers, the study also collected information on rape survivors’
experiences when trying to access post-rape health care services. For this purpose, the GHJRU
partnered with four non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that provide counselling services to rape
survivors: Rape Crisis Trust Cape Town (RCTCT); Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Project (TVEP);
People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA) and Masimanyane Women’s Support Centre (MWSC).1
Counsellors from these NGOs collected data on their clients’ experiences when reporting the offence
to the police and/or a health care facility.
This report describes the conceptualisation and findings of the research.

Publisher: University of Cape Town
Year of Publication: 2011
Download : 18027_i_feel_for_rape_survivors_report.pdf

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