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Reimagining services for rape survivors

NACOSA, in partnership with the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, hosted the Second National Roundtable on Specialised Forensic Services for Rape Survivors in South Africa last week. The roundtable, made possible with funding from the Global Fund and Amplify Change, was the second in a series of three, and provided an opportunity for key stakeholders to come together to share learning and collectively find solutions to the challenges with specialised forensic services for rape survivors.

The roundtable included a wide range of stakeholders working in the gender based violence space: from frontline workers and first responders to community organisations, government departments and representatives from the criminal justice system. Sharon Kouta, who manages NACOSA’s Global Fund work in forensic services centres, and Cezzanne Hoffmann, who is responsible for NACOSA’s USAID and PEPFAR-funded GBV prevention and response programme, were among those that shared their observations about the strengths and challenges of services for rape survivors.


Participants in the roundtable agreed that while the Thuthuzela Care Centre model is a good one, it has its challenges. Specialised services for rape survivors are not available consistently across the country. There are currently 55 called Thuthuzela Care Centres in South Africa but, considering our extremely high rates of gender based violence, this is simply not enough to ensure that all survivors, in all parts of the country, have access to the specialised forensic services that these centres provide.

Another challenge raised by Cezzanne Hoffmann and others, is the under-reporting of gender based violence and intimate partner violence, particularly for children and youth, who may take up to eight contacts before disclosing violence or abuse. Further issues that were important for NACOSA to note, considering its work in the HIV and AIDS space, are the major barriers to access faced by key populations including stigma, discrimination, unfair treatment and lack of referral to services. “Addressing these barriers to access for rape survivors needs closer co-operation between stakeholders, as well as intensive sensitivity training,” said Sharon Kouta.

Community groundwork

Dr Carolyn Hancock from Angel’s Care Crisis Centre, shared that “a good understanding of the community and care workers who work in the community daily” was critical. Cecilia Lemola from the Kgomotso Care Centres supported this, saying: “Community groundwork also strengthens our model. If your community does not know who you are and what services they can access, as well as staff not knowing where to refer them, the model will not work.” A process evaluation of TCC services (conducted in 2017 by Creative Consulting and Development Works) presented by NACOSA at the roundtable, found that community organisations like these cover critical gaps in service provision in forensic service centres. The findings from this evaluation were used to validate and shape current programming in post-rape services funded by the Global Fund.

Standardised and adaptive models

However, as Nazma Hendricks, Director of Rape Crisis, noted: “The TCC model is expensive. How can we make the services adaptive, better, more streamlined? What is going to be the methodology to be able to provide these services to survivors and ensure that everyone, including in rural areas, has access to the best quality of forensic services uniformly.” Advocate Bonnie Currie-Gamwo, Special Director of Public Prosecutions, presented at the roundtable noting: “We are working towards ensuring a standardised service across all TCCs, so that regardless of where you access the one certain key services will be available.”

“No model is bulletproof, we have to allow for adaptation,” noted the Director of Clinical Forensic Medicine Services for Gauteng’s Department of Health, Mohau Makhosane. “Some of the gaps observed are both human and financial resources.”

Elevating voices

The roundtable was about elevating the voices of those working on the frontline of dealing with the ravages of GBV at a time when there has been a sharp increase in violence linked to the deepening hardships caused by COVID-19 restrictions. The gathering brought all these diverse people together, in a hybrid in-person and online forum, to reimagine the model so that we can have better outcomes in addressing this pandemic of GBV in communities.

NACOSA was enormously encouraged by the response of key stakeholders at the roundtable who have reached out to engage around developing provincial forums to coordinate quality and standardised specialised services for rape survivors in South Africa.

Photographs: MSIZI Agency