April 13, 2022

Getting Help for Gender-Based Violence – Dr Shakira

Sometimes, we may find ourselves in situations where we convince ourselves that abusive situations are “normal”, and we don’t seek out help. In some cases, there are clear signs of abuse e.g., physical violence, but in other cases, it could involve someone trying to control everything you do, threatening, bullying you, forcing you to have sex or even touching you without your permission.

Signs of GBV

Keep an eye out on those close to you. If you see any signs of GBV e.g. an odd change in behaviour, if they’re afraid of their partner or if they have any marks or injuries, immediately provide support by encouraging them to get help.

If you’re in this situation, it takes an enormous amount of strength to reach out for help. You may feel embarrassed and ashamed, but don’t be. Many in these situations fear for their lives and stay in the situation hoping that this will get better. But the sooner you reach out for help, the sooner you can re-gain your safety and peace.

There are different types of gender-based violence (GBV), including economic, psychological, emotional, physical and sexual.

If you’re going through this, I want you to know-

  • This is NOT your fault
  • This is NOT normal
  • You’re strong and you’ll overcome this

Where to seek help

In your immediate circle, try to reach out to family, friends or even teachers. If there’s anyone who doesn’t believe you, then know that they aren’t the right person to continue speaking to about what you’re going through.

When you feel ready to report, your nearest police station, health facility or any organisation that deals with GBV, are the best places to start. If you’ve been threatened by the abuser, it’s important to move to a safer place ASAP. If you don’t feel comfortable to report this alone, take a friend or trusted family member with. 

Although this is a tough situation to deal with, if you’ve been sexually assaulted it’s important to access healthcare services immediately. Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) must be taken within 24-72 hours to prevent HIV. This service is provided free of charge at any Thuthuzela Centre. It’s also important to take a pregnancy test and find out more about safe termination services. I recommend Marie Stopes for more information on this. 

South African Police Service (SAPS)

If you’re experiencing GBV, SAPS needs to assist with medical, attention, shelter and victim counselling.

SAPS emergency number: 10111

Domestic violence Helpline: 0800 150 150

Organisations that offer assistance

The reality in our country is that sometimes, you may struggle to find immediate help and protection. Organisations such as these can assist you.

Thuthuzela Care Centres (TCC) are what we call one-stop facilities, where you’ll be able to get all of the help you need. You can report a rape case directly to the TCC, and the centre will assist you with immediate medical attention, counselling services, they’ll help you open a case and may even assist you in court.

At the TCC, you’ll be welcomed by a nurse or other staff member, who’ll explain the medical examination and processes and will assist you with sexually transmitted infection (STI) treatment. A social worker is usually on-site to offer counselling. They also offer transport or assistance with getting to a place of safety. These centres also complete the forms which will record the evidence of your sexual trauma, which can be used in court.

People Opposed to Woman Abuse (POWA) provides counselling, temporary shelter and legal assistance. You can contact them on 011 642 4345.

Childline South Africa helps with counselling and gives legal advice to youth. You can contact them on their new toll free line, 116.

Tears Foundation provides counselling and you can send them a message on their free SMS line, *134*7355#.

The Trauma Centre provides trauma counselling and you can contact them on 021 465 7373.

Human Trafficking Helpline – You can contact the Human Trafficking Helpline on 08000 737 283/082 455 3664 if you suspect you or someone you know is in danger of kidnapping or trafficking.

Getting help for GBV isn’t a simple process- in fact, it may be one of the most difficult things you go through in life. Help and support for GBV isn’t once-off. It can be a long process and  an even tougher journey, but always remember that you are a warrior.

About the author: Dr Shakira Choonara is an award-winning public health practitioner, 2017 Woman of the Year in Health in South Africa and is an expert in universal health coverage, sexual reproductive health rights, gender and youth and serves in the World Health Organization and UN Women.

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