Good Life

Thuthuzela care centres bring comfort in times of distress

The numbers just keep rising even with the lockdown, says acting centre manager at the Baragwanath facility

Domestic violence made headlines in 2020 as lockdowns left women trapped at home with abusive partners.
Domestic violence made headlines in 2020 as lockdowns left women trapped at home with abusive partners.
Image: 123RF/Vigen Mnoyan

Thuthuzela Care Centres (TCC), run by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), are one-stop facilities that bring health, justice and civil society together to provide effective and supportive care to victims of sexual violence. 

Opened in 2003 to honour late rape victim Nthabiseng Lorraine Khumalo, the Nthabiseng Thuthuzela Care Centre for Rape Survivors at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital is one of the SA’s first one-stop care centres established to help victims of sexual offences and gender-based violence (GBV). 

The Soweto-based facility is also one of the busiest, with more than 1,161 rape victims admitted each year with almost half children under 18 years old. This harrowing statistic speaks to the current rape and GBV crisis in SA.

According to the SA police crime report, about 42,289 rapes were recorded in 2019/2020, up from 41,583 in 2018/2019, with an average of 116 rapes each day. This has led to SA being dubbed “the rape capital of the world” by Interpol. Interventions aimed at curbing the rape and domestic violence scourge have since been adopted and adapted by the departments of health, social development and NGOs.

One of the 56 in SA, the Nthabiseng Thuthuzela Care Centre housed in one of Africa’s biggest public hospitals in Soweto, offers rape victims an integrated approach to sexual abuse and violence. This is to ensure that victims are treated with fairness, dignity and privacy and that the prosecution of sexual offences is improved and the process sped up.

The centres have made it possible for health, justice and civil society to coexist under one roof for the joint purpose of providing supportive and centralised care to victims of sexual violence.

Sister Brenda Mkhwanazi, acting centre manager at the Baragwanath facility, says: “After reporting the rape to the local police, the victims are accompanied to the nearest centre, where a site co-ordinator administers counselling in a quiet, private space. Nurses and a doctor then conduct a series of medical examinations. The doctor provides the patient with information on the procedures to be performed and a consent form to be signed for the medical examination and blood specimens.”

The process also acts as evidence collection used to strengthen the victim’s case and speed up prosecution alongside the NPA, investigating officers and the police reports. Should the victims require further examination and counselling, this is arranged with a comfort pack that includes clothing, toiletries and other amenities to help restore the victim’s dignity. 

Those who need accommodation are put into contact with NGOs such as People Opposing Women Abuse and Children Abuse Treatment & Training Services that operate shelters and other interventions near the centre. The patient is given follow-up dates for counselling with the psychologist and the judicial system process is explained by the site co-ordinator. 

We are overwhelmed almost every day. The numbers just keep rising even with the lockdown. We cannot tell if we are winning this battle against GBV or not.
Brenda Mkhwanazi

“Our work is important to ensure that victims of rape and abuse are given a comprehensive set of interventions. This would not be possible without help from the police, the NPA, NGOs and other stakeholders,” says Mkhwanazi.

“Our work starts as soon as victims approach our reception and our first responders and social workers begin to counsel them, until six months after the incident. Each person is assessed individually, treated, counselled and given the support and treatment to ensure that their dignity is restored after a traumatic experience.”

Without giving official figures, Mkhwanazi says they see up to 100 victims a month and sometimes more. These include children and women, neglected and abandoned children, victims of human trafficking and those seeking help with substance abuse.

“We are overwhelmed almost every day. The numbers just keep rising even with the lockdown. We cannot tell if we are winning this battle against GBV or not,” she says.

NPA advocate Mkhuseli Jokani and provincial manager of the Eastern Cape cluster of TCC, says the importance of the centres in bringing about justice, dignity and hope to the victims of rape and GBV cannot be overstated.

“These centres play a pivotal role in eradicating the scourge of sexual abuse in communities. Having an integrated approach has increased and improved the conviction rate and the work of the NPA and other stakeholders. This collaboration ensures that victims do not wait years for the wheels of justice to turn. It has lessened the lead time to conclude the cases of sexual offences.”

If you’re a victim of GBV, or you know someone who needs help, contact the national GBV Command Centre, which operates 24/7. 

Call 080-0428-428. If you are unable to speak, you can send a “Please Call Me” by dialling *120*7867# or SMS “help” to 31531.

This article was paid for by The Solidarity Fund.