"There is a fear of judgement that happens around rape, and silence is the way to protect you from that fear. But the only person that is to blame for rape is the rapist," Larissa Klazinga said today at the 11th annual Silent Protest, which was hosted at the University of Cape Town (UCT) by the Aids Healthcare Foundation (AHF) – in line with Women’s Month.
Klazinga is the Regional Policy and Advocacy Manager at AHF.
The event was attended by hundreds of students and members of the public in solidarity with rape victims and survivors. They also advocated victims’ rights for Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP).
"The first Silent Protest was founded in 2007 at Rhodes University in the Eastern Cape, and this year marks the 11th year the Silent Protest is taking place in South Africa", said Klazinga.
“The reason an HIV organisation is involved in a gender-violence prevention event is because there’s a clear connection between the epidemic of rape and the epidemic of HIV and if we don’t address rape we are never going to stop new infections.
"AHF is the largest HIV/Aids organisation in the world, treating around 750 000 people a month", said Klazinga.
South Africa has one of the highest reported rape rates in the world.
"This is the fourth year that the AHF has organised the Silent Protest to highlight the serious issues surrounding rape and sexual violence," said Klazinga.
Why a silent protest?
The Silent Protest aims to draw awareness to the importance of receiving PEP within 72 hours after somebody has been raped, helping the body fight off HIV infection, said Klazinga.
“There is enormous stigma against gender-based violence. People are assigning blame to the victim and not the perpetrator, and excuses are made on behalf of the perpetrator.”
Rape is rife in South Africa – one in every three girls will be victims of sexual assault before the age of 16 years, and one in every five boys will be victims before the age of 16 years.
PEP after rape
"PEP is free for all who need it and readily available in clinics," said Klazinga. "But there is a lack of information on PEP. Our aim is to educate the public on the critical importance of PEP and urge the government to improve the education on the importance of PEP."
Victims can simply report to a medical facility, state that they have been raped and ask for PEP, said Klazinga.
“Once the victim reports a rape, there would need to be a pregnancy test, and HIV test, a blood draw for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and would be given a broad-spectrum antibiotic for the STIs. They would be given the morning after pill, and a short course of antibiotics if the victim is HIV negative at the time of the test.”
But healthcare workers are under the assumption that rape victims need to come with a police report to gain access to PEP, added Klazinga.
According to the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act of 2007, it mandates that victims of rape must receive PEP for HIV infection at public hospitals and clinics. It further mentions that PEP should be free of charge.
South African legislation therefore guarantees all survivors of rape and sexual violence the right to access to PEP.
The Silent Protest included a morning briefing; symbolic silencing whereby participants had their mouths taped shut in front of the hall; a march to highlight the silence in communities and the larger South Africa; the "die-in" (where participants lie on the floor in silence); followed by removing the tape and breaking the silence.
The event ended off with an open mic session, which allowed participants to share their stories and views, breaking the silence against gender-based violence.
Image credits: Naseema Barday