Claiming the Right to Health after Rape
Caption: Thuthuzela Care Centre Coordinator Palesa Lekhesa, explains the value of the one stop centre for rape survivors. Photo: Farhana Sarguro
All the necessary treatments and medications are available free of charge to rape survivors at certain designated state health facilities, regardless of whether a survivor chooses to report the rape to the police or not. There are also specialised health facilities for rape survivors called Thuthuzela Care Centres, which offer survivors the forensic examination required by law should a survivor wish to proceed with a criminal investigation, as well as free treatment for all of the related health risks.
In our previous blog “Who is in Charge of My Health?“, we discussed the health risks that South Africans face and how this complicates reporting rape. In this blog we focus on the health risks specific to rape and the health services available to survivors.
What are the main risks to health after rape?
Rape can be very damaging to the delicate tissues of the vagina and the anus, causing cuts and tears. Deeper cuts and blood loss from other injuries are dangerous and need to be treated urgently at an emergency unit. Cuts to the genitals also make HIV and other sexually transmitted infections a risk and this needs to be treated with preventive medicines within 72 hours
HIV and Post Exposure Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP’s)
A rapist may pass the HIV virus on to a survivors during rape. HIV can be transmitted during oral, anal or vaginal sex. If there is more than one rapist and if there are injuries, then the risk that this can happen are even bigger.
HIV is a virus that breaks down the body’s ability to defend itself against illness. If it is left untreated, HIV will eventually lead to AIDS (Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome), a potentially deadly disease. The use of antiretroviral therapy (ART) prolongs health in people with HIV and can also prevent HIV infection in people that have been recently exposed to the virus. This kind of treatment is called Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP). The sooner a rape survivor receives PEP the less likely HIV will occur. Ideally a survivor must take the PEP within 72 hours of the rape.
The full course of treatment lasts for 28 days. It is vital that the whole course is completed exactly according to the dosage prescribed. It may cause unpleasant side-effects but there are also medicines that survivors can take to treat these side effects. As the virus may not show in the first test, it is important that a follow up HIV test is done after three months. If the initial test is positive, survivors cannot take the kind of ARVs that prevent HIV infection but they can take the kind that help to delay the onset of AIDS. In terms of the Sexual Offences Act all rape survivors can receive these medicines free of charge at designated government health facilities.
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI’s)
A rapist might infect a survivor with any one of many different kinds of Sexually Transmitted Infections and all survivors should be given a course of antibiotics to prevent this. If there is any discomfort, itching or pain after this, a survivor should return for a second course.
Women may fall pregnant because of rape if they are not already using contraception or are infertile for other reasons. To prevent pregnancy a survivor must be given the option of taking The Morning After Pill. However, this treatment must be taken within 72 hours of the rape for it to work.
If a woman falls pregnant after rape and wishes to discontinue with the pregnancy, abortions are legal in South Africa and are available at district clinics for up to 12 weeks after impregnation and for up to 20 weeks at regional hospitals. Otherwise there are a number of adoption services availabl
What about Mental and Emotional Health Risks?
This blog was focused on the risks to the body because of rape. Our next blog will focus on the mental and emotional impact of rape and how this can affect the health of survivor
Rape Crisis Workshops and AmplifyChange
Rape Crisis in partnership with AmplifyChange will be hosting a series of workshops on these health risks, about the free services we all have a right to access, where to find these services and what to do and how to complain if we do not get access to these services. Our workshops are spaces for all of us to come together to talk about our lives, to find strength in doing so and to reclaim the power to be in charge of our own health.
Plan a Workshop with Rape Crisis
If you would like Rape Crisis to come and conduct a workshop for your organisation, or with a group from your community, please email our training and development coordinator Rifqah Barnes on firstname.lastname@example.org or call her on 021 684 1180. OR donate to support the work Rape Crisis does by visiting our pay portal.
& Farhana Sarguro
of the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust