Interview With Dr. Sebastian Van As - Cape Town trauma surgeon Dr. Sebastian Van As talks about the social ills behind South Africa's high rape statistics and what it will take to properly address the problem.
Rape prevention & female empowerment
It has been called the silent war on women, predicted to be the number 1 contributor to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in South Africa. In 2006 there were nearly 55,000 officially reported rapes, almost half involving children under the age of 18. The National Institute for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of Offenders estimates only 1 in 20 rape incidents in South Africa are reported, which would bring the figure to more than 1 million rapes a year. Limited availability of services, stigma and fear prevent women from seeking assistance and redress.
"Sexual violence is a violation of human rights and a serious public health problem. It has a profound impact on physical and mental health, both immediately and many years after the assault. Women’s inability to negotiate safe sex and refuse unwanted sex is closely linked to the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS. Unwanted sex — from being unable to say “no!” to a partner and be heard, to sexual assault such as rape — results in a higher risk of abrasion and bleeding, providing a ready avenue for transmission of the virus.
< Violence is also a consequence of HIV/AIDS: for many women, the fear of violence prevents them from declaring their HIV-positive status and seeking help and treatment. A clinic in Zambia reported that 60 percent of eligible women opt out of treatment due to fears of violence and abandonment resulting from disclosing their HIV-positive status."
Such women have been driven from their homes, left destitute, ostracized by their families and community, and subjected to extreme physical and emotional abuse.
Supporting programs in the community offer girls and young women an opportunity to learn the skills and tools necessary to improve their lives.
Working creatively with various organizations in South Africa, we help empower young women to overcome social oppression and develop self-confidence, life skills and leadership qualities.
As financial freedom and access to medical and psychological services become more available to the women in South Africa, the stigma and shame culturally associated with rape will lessen. With that, an increased awareness of the issue could lead to government and international focus and support.
Violence against women
and girls continues unabated in every continent, country and culture. It takes a devastating toll on women’s lives, on their families, and on society as a whole. Most societies prohibit such violence — yet the reality is that too often, it is covered up or tacitly condoned.