We launched the #KnowYourRights awareness work on our social media platforms to ensure that rape survivors are aware of the health rights and health services that they are entitled to access. In an effort to speak directly to specific instances of sexual violence, the mini-campaign introduced our online community to 6 characters – characters that we could either see ourselves in or recognise as members of our communities – and their experiences with rape and gender-based violence.
By examining the health risks that affected them we could walk the journey of what health rights they could exercise through the health services that they could access. By collectively walking their journey to recovery as an online community we hoped to highlight how any and all of us can seek the survivor-sensitive care that we deserve, should we ever find ourselves or someone we care about in that situation.
Survivors of sexual violence have the right to free medical care, counselling and legal assistance. Survivors can access specialised facilities like Thuthuzela Care Centres, that provide the full suite of these services in one place. When accessing a specialist facility, a survivor can expect to be welcomed with containment and counselling before undergoing a medical exam. Following the exam they have the opportunity to consider taking legal action supported by any physical (DNA) evidence from the medical exam.
It is important to note that taking legal action by opening a case is not a must or prerequisite in order to access specialist health services. Survivors have a right to free medical assistance at these facilities whether they decide to report the rape and open a case, or not. A specialist facility will need to be accessed by the survivor within 72 hours (three days) in order for them to receive the necessary medical attention that they need, and for physical evidence to be examined before it fades (which typically happens within that 72 hour window).
Too often we only think about the health risks of rape in the context of the physical (DNA) evidence that can be used in a court case. It is up to a survivor whether or not they report a rape, regardless they have the legal right to free counselling and medical care which can be accessed at their nearest Thuthuzela Care Centre, specialised clinic or hospital. But a survivor’s journey to wellness is more than just about assembling a strong case for prosecution. As people that have been disavowed of the right to feel positive ownership of their bodies, it is important to highlight the treatment of health risks as part of the holistic journey to recovery that every survivor should receive.
As a survivor of sexual violence it is important to know and understand your health risks and rights, and the services that are available to you. If there is one message that needs to cemented in our minds, it is that anyone who survives sexual violence needs to see a doctor or get to a medical facility within 72 hours (three days). Sexually-transmitted infections and diseases (like HIV) need to be seen as soon as possible for a course of treatment to be effective, or viable.
You have a right to HIV prevention medicines, known as Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP), if you go to a government health facility within 72 hours after someone has raped you. If you do not get the treatment that you need to prevent HIV infection soon enough, it will not work – the sooner that you do this the better, but after 72 hours it will be too late.
There is also the risk of falling pregnant, especially if you are not on any contraception. You have the right to emergency contraception in the form of the morning after pill. While abortions can be administered up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy, regional hospitals and some private clinics will perform abortions up to 20 weeks if the pregnancy is a result of rape.
As mentioned, there are specialised health services for rape survivors. Specialist health facilities like Thuthuzela Care Centres were created specifically as a critical part of South Africa’s anti-rape strategy. The Centres are one-stop facilities that offer counselling and containment, as well as medical and legal assistance to rape survivors.
Thuthuzela Care Centres respond to the needs of a rape survivor all in one place with sensitive and specially trained personnel. The aim of integrating survivor-centred health facilities like these into the public health system is to reduce the secondary victimisation and trauma that has been commonplace and a barrier to the reporting of rapes in this country.
All survivors of sexual violence have the right to access specialist health facilities at no cost.
COUNSELLING AND MENTAL HEALTH
An oft neglected part of the discourse about a survivor’s recovery is counselling and mental health. Emotional and mental recovery cannot be ignored when looking at the holistic recovery of a survivor. The shock and trauma of rape can do very real damage to your emotional health. You might have trouble sleeping and feel overwhelmed by strong emotions. If your emotional health is not well supported this could lead to anxiety and depression.
Seeking mental health support and having a space where you can take the time to focus solely on yourself is an act of self-compassion. Making your emotional wellbeing a priority is integral to your overall health and recovery. While so much empowerment and peace of mind can be gained from counselling, the real work is creating a plan to address and overcome your trauma. That is a journey in and of itself, one that can be life-changing. No survivor should ever feel alone on their road to recovery.
We are here to ensure that all survivors feel seen, heard and supported on their road to recovery. If you can’t speak to anyone, speak to us.
isiXhosa: 021 361 9085
Afrikaans: 021 633 9229
English: 021 447 9762
WhatsApp: 083 222 5164