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South Africa, 1 December 2010: South Africans need to unite to stop sexual violence

UNICEF outraged at unacceptably high levels of violence against women and children

EDENDALE, Pietermaritzburg -1 December 2010- As South Africans mobilize behind the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign, UNICEF South Africa joined the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DoJ&CD), the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the Embassy of Denmark at the official opening of a Thuthuzela Care Centre at the Edendale Hospital in KwaZulu-Natal. The centre – which provides comprehensive support to survivors of sexual violence in an integrated and sensitive manner – is the second of three to be launched this week in the province.

South Africa continues to be plagued by unacceptably high levels of violence against its women and children, despite a world-renowned Constitution and a legislative overhaul that safeguards women's and children's rights.  The media is dominated by stories of sexual violence, and recent figures released by the South African Police Service show that South Africa remains one of the most impacted by sexual violence in the world. There are 138.5 reported sexual offences per 100,000 population, which translates to approximately 60,000 to 70,000 reported cases each year, with an estimated 40 percent of the victims being children.

The tip of the iceberg

Research from the Medical Research Council has suggested that only one in nine cases of rape are ever reported, often as a result of a lack of confidence in the criminal justice system.  This means that the real numbers of victims are well over half a million women and children each year.  Research suggests that if a victim reports a rape, there is no better than a six or seven percent chance that the perpetrator will be convicted. 

Reasons for the high attrition rate for sexual offences include gaps in policing, in the collection of medico-legal evidence, and in prosecution, as well as the secondary victimization often experienced by survivors going through the criminal justice system.

“Putting these figures together, it is evident that sexual offences are committed in South Africa in a climate of almost total impunity,” said UNICEF South Africa Representative, Ms. Aida Girma. 

A one-stop integrated response

In this context, the Thuthuzela Care Centre is a critical element in the response to sexual violence, aiming to reduce secondary trauma for the victim, improve perpetrator conviction rates and reduce the lead time for finalizing cases.  Research has demonstrated that the one-stop integrated response provided to victims of sexual offence at the Thuthuzela Care Centres has helped to increase conviction rates significantly.

Specially-trained staff at the Thuthuzela centres provide services in a manner that is mindful of the dignity of survivors, and makes specific provisions for the rights and vulnerabilities of children and women.

Speaking at the launch, the Honourable Jeff Radebe, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development applauded the Thuthuzela model for its focus on protecting the rights of victims, and stressed the need to strengthen the justice system so as to improve conviction rates with regard to gender-based crimes and crimes against children. He also emphasized the importance of dealing swiftly with those in the criminal justice system who subject children and women to secondary victimization.

Driving the HIV/AIDS Pandemic

The launch of the Edendale Centre in the week commemorating World AIDS Day. Various studies have shown the link between gender-based violence and HIV infection.  Sexual violence can lead to HIV infection directly, as trauma increases the risk of transmission.  It also increases HIV risk indirectly as victims of childhood sexual abuse are more likely to be HIV positive, and to engage in high risk behaviors.

MEC for Health in KwaZulu-Natal, DR. Sbongiseni Dhlomo stated that for victims of rape and sexual assault, “access to health services comes first, before going to the police,” ensuring that their health is not endangered further. All Thuthuzea Care Centres are located at hospitals to guarantee the best possible access to healthcare.

Prevention through Partnerships is Key

Although the Thuthuzela Care Centres are instrumental in addressing sexual violence, they provide assistance to those who have already suffered trauma and severe abuse. UNICEF believes that while strengthened support for victims is crucial, the criminal justice system can only go so far when the social acceptance of violence against women and children is widespread. 

“We must take collective responsibility to ensure we alert the police when we notice such violence,” implored Hon. Radebe, particularly urging men to speak out against known perpetrators in their communities and to be positive role models for young boys.

Prevention must be at the heart of all efforts to combat violence against women and children, and the Government, business, civil society, faith-based organizations, the media and the UN and other development partners need to work together to increase awareness of the negative impact of violence and abuse on women and children.

Note to the Editor:

For more information or to arrange an interview with the UNICEF Representative, please contact:
Kate Pawelczyk, Communication Officer, Email: kpawelczyk@unicef.org or Tel :0823365565

For information about UNICEF’s child protection programme contact:
Stephen Blight on sbight@unicef.org or 0123548201

High resolution photographs are available on request.

 

 
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