17 August 2015

Silent protest against South Africa's rape culture to be held in Durban

This Friday, the 21st of August, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation with be hosting a silent protest in Durban to draw attention to South Africa's rape epidemic and highlight the link between HIV and gender-based violence.


On Friday 21 August 2015 the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) will lead the 2nd Silent Protest in Durban, demonstrating solidarity with rape survivors and demanding greater access to Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) after rape, in line with AHF’s 20x20 Campaign. The Protest is in its 9th year nationally, held in Grahamstown on 07 August and in Johannesburg on 19 August 2015. This year the protest will be organised in collaboration with the Durban University of Technology and supported by SWEAT and Sisonke.

The main objective of the silent protest is to focus attention on the fact that rape is a far greater epidemic that than the skewed statistics provided by the South African Police Services (SAPS) would indicate. In their quest to report on improved crime statistics there is a disincentive for the SAPS to accurately report any violent crimes.

A number of other factors; including intimidation of the survivor by the perpetrator, fear of not being believed, of being blamed and shunned, of being interrogated, re-traumatised, labelled and pitied also contribute to the silence of victims.

To further complicate matters, low conviction rates, lengthy court cases and victimisation have bred a culture of impunity in South Africa, where rape is commonplace because there is a belief that there is no consequence for this heinous act.

The latest available statistics, reported in 2013/14 reveal that 66 000 sexual assaults were reported in SA. Of these only 6.5% have been successfully prosecuted and less than half of 1% of perpetrators will serve any jail-time. All studies agree that the vast majority of rape victims never report the crime to the police and there are many statistics available focusing on the ratio of reporting to non-reporting of rape survivors: the most conservative estimate comes from Rape Crisis (1 in 4) and the most shocking comes from the SAPS (1 in 25). These statistics translate to anywhere from 260 000 to over 1.5 million rapes annually.

The national protest on the 21 August affirms our solidarity with the millions silenced by rape and sexual violence. Despite progressive laws and policies, patriarchal attitudes and misogynist practice render them meaningless in the lives of rape survivors. Survivors face victim-blaming, secondary victimisation and social stigma when they speak out about the violence they have experienced and often state service providers fail to respect the rights of survivors by not complying with norms and standards set out in national legislation and policy, specifically denying survivors PEP unless they report to the police.

Despite South Africa's sexual offences legislation conferring the right to post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), within 72 hours, in order to prevent HIV infection among rape survivors, various institutional and practical challenges obstruct access to this treatment within the crucial time limit. These challenges include lack of awareness about PEP among both survivors and professionals and the inability of individual provider institutions to meet patients' needs, especially in rural areas according to Diversity and Equality in Health and Care.

PEPFAR Global AIDS Coordinator Deborah Birx noted that “with 7,000 new infections per week, young women in sub-Saharan Africa are an especially vulnerable population, and when mixing in the high prevalence of sexual violence, they are four times more likely to contract sexually transmitted infections.”


1. Raise awareness around the epidemic of rape in South Africa, highlighting the silence around sexual violence and the state’s inability or unwillingness to support rape survivors, provide adequate healthcare including HIV services and access to justice.

2. Demonstrate the connection between HIV and gender-based violence, creating a space where people can talk about their own experiences of sexual violence, HIV and stigma

3. Challenge the currently problematic implementation of the Sexual offences Amendment Act as it relates to access to PEP 

4. Stop victim-blaming and begin talking about why rape survivors don’t report and don’t access PEP

5. To symbolise all rape survivors whose voices are silenced by rape and to represent the millions of rape survivors who do not report their violation and can’t access health services.

Effective PEP treatment:

The Treatment Action Campaign states that to ensure that PEP treatment is effective and to prevent HIV infection after a rape incident, the survivor should:

- Start PEP treatment as soon as possible, but no later than 72 hours after  the rape or sexual assault

- Take every dose of the medication as prescribed for 28 days

- Be tested and treated for other sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

- Be tested for pregnancy; and if reported early morning after pill to prevent chances of getting pregnant should be given

- Practice safe sex for at least six month after the rape incident

- Return to the health facility for follow-up tests and counselling at six weeks, three months, six months, and one year after the rape incident 

PEP treatment is offered at many hospitals in South Africa. For a full list, click here

Alternatively, you can contact one of the rape crisis numbers for more help:Bloemfontein: 051 447 6678

Cape Town: 021 447 9762 
Durban: 031 312 2323 
East London: 043 743 7266 
Johannesburg: 011 728 1347
Kimberley: 053 831 1715 
Mafekeng: 018 384 4870
Nelspruit:  013 755 3606 
Polokwane: 015 297 7538 
Port Elizabeth: 041 484 3804
Pretoria: 012 342 222

Read more:

What makes women more vulnerable to HIV?

The sooner you're on ARV's the better

Half of all Khayelitsha men don't know their HIV status


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Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria before working for an HIV/AIDS NPO in Soweto for many years. She was named one of the Mail & Guardian's Top 200 Young South Africans in 2012.

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