Dinah Masoane has been working at the Nthabiseng Thuthuzela Care Centre (TCC) in Soweto as a first response counsellor since 2011. These 24-hour, ‘one-stop’ facilities bring health, justice and civil society professionals together to provide effective and supportive care to victims of sexual violence. Dinah works for Jo'burg Child Welfare, where she started as a volunteer in 2009: "I'm a teacher by profession and worked with dire cases in Orange Farm while it was still informal. I would see very serious issues."
Dinah went on to train as a social auxiliary worker and didn't know much about the TCC model when she started working at Nthabiseng. Children who come to the Nthabiseng TCC are sometimes drop-ins but are usually accompanied by parents, caregivers or community care workers or referred by teachers or care workers. They are examined by doctors, tested for HIV and are referred for counselling to Dinah. Post-exposure prophylactic (PEP) will also be given if necessary within 74 hours of the assault but it is sometimes too late. “Children don't talk,” explains Dinah. “Teachers or parents notice over time. And so many will miss PEP."
Sometimes Dinah will talk to children one-on-one and sometimes with a parent or caregiver present. She makes an effort to assess family dynamics and relationships, looking at how the child and the caregiver interact, what information they give, how they explain events. The role requires extraordinary communications and interpersonal skills. "I often spend the day listening and hiding feelings and that's hard," says Dinah.
When she started at the Nthabiseng TCC, Dinah was shocked: "It was a surprise for me to realise that these things happen here. I really got sick. I was sore all over. I'm usually the strong one and I'd never seen anything like it. I needed rest. I think I slept for three days. It was shock. Emotional, physical shock." But Dinah stayed on, "I had to grow into it".
Johannesburg Child Welfare’s Programme Manager, Raquel Reddy has enormous respect for her:
"Dinah is so resilient. Not all first responders are. The rate of burnout is exceptionally high. Her ability to do this lies in the ability to self-care."
Dinah deals with five to six reported cases each week and the overwhelming majority of victims are girls. "You don't only hear about the rape. Often, parents will tell you their stories too." Many parents are also victims.
"I'm a granny now,” says Dinah. “When my grandchildren go somewhere, I count the seconds that they're gone. I see young fathers, loving dads and I can't help questioning them. I'm fiercely over-protective. I lock doors behind me all the time. I know that crimes happen within a second, under the watch of parents. You become vigilant. Any man is a suspect. And that is a problem.”
Dinah believes passionately that communities need to be more involved in the fight against sexual violence.
"The system has holes. We have to strengthen the services that protect. If the system makes the child a priority, things could be different.”
TCCs are part of a national response to disturbingly high level of sexual violence, particularly against children, but they are by their nature reactive, waiting for cases to come in. To improve reporting and prevention, communities need to be proactive. Dinah and Raquel agree that the first responder programme should be intensified to let people know that a lot can be done to prevent abuse as well as support those who have been victims of abuse.
"I make sure that when people leave, it will be with a positive message and a smile. I try my utmost, whatever the situation," says Dinah. Often, clients return to say hello: "It is rewarding for me." Sometimes, she'll see her clients encourage others who are waiting.
"I'm not a hero. This is my work".
NACOSA’s Gender Based Violence programme is a national response to unacceptably high levels of gender based violence which is fuelling HIV. The programme provides a comprehensive package of psycho-social support, HIV services and practical care to gender based violence victims at one-stop Thuthuzela Care Centres and Domestic Violence Courts. Trained first response counsellors guide victims through the process and help them to access health, social and justice services.