Many children report to new MSF post-rape centre in Khayelitsha, South Africa

"Through the new project, we want to break the silence around the issue of rape, get communities to acknowledge the problem and stimulate victims to lay claim against their rapists," said an MSF spokeperson.

In the first three weeks since its opening, the MSF Simelela Rape Survivors Centre in the township of Khayelitsha, near Cape Town in South Africa, received 24 victims of rape - 19 children, four women and one man. Fifteen of the rape victims who came to the centre were under 12 years old.

"Sexual violence is a huge problem in the country and especially in the townships," explained Veliswa Labatala, MSF coordinator at the Simelela Rape Survivors Centre. "Khayelitsha is one of the slums near Cape Town and hosts some 500,000 people. Poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and violence are common. Last year, 458 rapes were reported at the Site B Police station in Khayelitsha, but the actual figure is much higher since many cases of rape remain unreported."

To address the needs of rape victims more effectively, MSF opened a post-rape centre attached to the community health centre of Site B in Khayelitsha. Before, women had the option to receive care elsewhere but for many of them, especially those from Site B, the time and money needed for getting there were reasons for not seeking help.

The new centre, which opened in the first week of October, offers medical and psychosocial care, including post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV transmission prevention and trauma counselling.

"In the past, we’ve focused too exclusively on treating only the physical bruises, that way turning a blind eye to the psychological impact of rape. Time has come to offer the survivors better care, comprehensively and appropriately," Veliswa Labatala said.

In light of the shocking number of sexually abused children, MSF will evaluate the need to adapt its post rape programme to this reality. The substantial attendance at the centre in these first three weeks already indicates the clear need for proper care and treatment for all rape victims. However education and awareness raising are important as well.

"Through the new project, we want to break the silence around the issue of rape, get communities to acknowledge the problem and stimulate victims to lay claim against their rapists," Valiswa Labatala said.