Written by: Sinothando Ndelu
South Africa has one of the highest incidences of violence against women and children and sexual crime in the world. This makes access to justice as well sexual and reproductive health services a non- negotiable. Male perpetuated sexual violence as well as Violence Against Women and Children (VAWAC) puts women girls and queer persons at greater risk of unwanted pregnancies. Survivors need specialised care which comprises of access to post exposure treatment for STIs including HIV, emergency contraception and safe abortion.
Thuthuzela Care Centres (TCCs) are one-stop model centres of care for victims of sexual assault. These centres are operational in public hospitals, in communities where the incidents of rape is particularly high. They are also linked to the sexual offences courts – uniquely South African intervention. TCCs are survivor centred and are designed such that there is respect, comfort, restoring of dignity and ensuring justice for children and women who are victims of sexual violence. It is of particular concern that such a well-considered intervention is waning because of budgetary issues. On inception there were fifty five centres in 2006 and this number has drastically decreased since.
TCCs are the epitome of the realisation of constitutional rights as they bring Sexual and Reproductive Justice. This means survivors receive highly specialised, high quality care. These centres also provide HIV prevention and pregnancy curbing medications. Their linkages to sexual offences courts mean evidence preservation is better and this can ensure that prosecution of sexual crimes can be higher than the 4% success rate that currently exists.
According to Sonke Gender Justice Round Table on GBV and Sexual and Reproductive Health in 2016 “Women who experienced intimate partner violence are more likely to use contraceptive methods in secret or have a partner who refuses to use a condom. These women also experience a higher rate of unintended pregnancies, have more unsafe abortions, and are more likely to become pregnant as adolescents.” Efforts to strengthen the social crimes unit in all police stations needs to be hastened. Social Crimes Unit is ideally a space for victims of gender based violence, domestic abuse, sexual crimes, violence against women and children. These units should have the makings of a smaller TCC where women can access much needed on call personnel and intervention to prevent pregnancy and STIs should they need it.
The Total Shutdown in 2019 had made recommendations that would see women and children receive much better comprehensive Sexual and Reproductive Health services and psychological care. The National Strategic Plan on Gender Based Violence and Femicide must clearly outline how, in the absence of TCCs and enabled Social Crimes Units, it will ensure women and children receive lifesaving Sexual and Reproductive Health services.
Should you wish to know the location of these Thuthuzela Care Centres: https://www.gov.za/TCC