Up to a quarter of women in South Africa are raped. Most survivors never report the crime, yet those who seek support may fall under the care of people like Teddy Ceba and Mabel Qhathatsi, forensic nurses who provide health and criminal justice services in Free State province.
For more than a decade, Ceba and Qhathatsi have worked together at one of the country’s 55 Thuthuzela Care Centres, one-stop clinics that, operating at public hospitals or within communities, form a critical strand of South Africa’s anti-rape strategy.
“The oldest victim I have seen was a 89-year-old woman,” said Ceba. “The thugs broke into her house and raped her throughout the night. The youngest one since I worked here was four months – a baby boy molested by a family member. He was crying and the nanny realised something was wrong.”
Forensic nurses like Ceba provide a vital service – statistics suggest their intervention in rape cases improves the chances of holding the perpetrator to account by 35% – yet their future is under threat. Government cuts are in the pipeline that, combined with restrictions surrounding donor support, will only compound a chronic funding shortage.
Untreated Violence, an analysis of rape crisis services published last week by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), found that only 27% of designated facilities across the country provide the comprehensive medical care required. That includes a forensic examination, HIV testing, tetanus and hepatitis B vaccinations, emergency contraception and mental health support.
Only 42% of the 265 specialist facilities consulted said all the necessary medical examinations and treatments were available. While all the facilities provided HIV testing, nearly three-quarters did not provide at least one of the essential services, and 20% did not offer a clinical forensic examination of survivors.
There was an especially marked lack of mental healthcare, with little more than a quarter of rape survivors having access to a psychologist. Yet one survivor told researchers: “I would be dead today if it wasn’t for the counselling I received after I was raped. We need to be able to get these services.”