Results from the Women's Justice and Empowerment Initiative
in South Africa

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Through a wide range of projects, RTI experts help address challenges faced by women and girls worldwide. Our work spans efforts to empower women to raise their incomes through cooperatives, design and implementation of women-focused interventions to prevent HIV/AIDS, and comprehensive research and programs to understand and prevent gender-based violence.

Recently, we concluded the Women's Justice and Empowerment Initiative (WJEI) in South Africa, where sexual violence has remained a deeply rooted challenge. With funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development, we assisted the Sexual Offences and Community Affairs (SOCA) Unit of the National Prosecuting Authority in its effort to strengthen the capacity of justice sector institutions to protect the rights of women and children.

To achieve this goal, the project focused on implementing and expanding the country's Thuthuzela Care Centers—whose name derives from the Xhosa word for "comfort."

Rape survivor kit demonstration
A rape survivor comfort kit is shown to Advocate Thoko Majokweni (left) of the National Prosecuting Authority, Ms. Liz Berry (second from left), and former US Ambassador to South Africa, Mr. Gips.

Considered a bold new approach to rape care management, the Thuthuzela model—developed by SOCA and taken to scale under WJEI—aims to improve the treatment of rape survivors and thereby reduce secondary victimization, reduce the time needed to finalize a case, and improve conviction rates.

Beginning at the police station, the survivor receives comfort and crisis counseling while in transit to the hospital. Once there, the survivor is ushered to a private space within the care center and provided with trauma counseling. A doctor is immediately summoned to conduct a medical examination while an investigating officer is made available to take a statement.

After receiving treatment, the survivor is given a follow-up date for further medical and psychosocial care before being transported home or to a shelter. This process ensures that service providers are available to a survivor at one location, rather than shuttling survivors throughout the system.

"South Africa's Women's Justice and Empowerment Initiative embodies a sustainable partnership between the United States and South African governments to help rape victims become survivors," said Peter Vaz, RTI chief of party for the project.

The WJEI program garnered critical political support, both regionally and internationally. During the course of the program, 23 Thuthuzela Care Centers were established in all nine provinces in South Africa. In addition, seven existing centers were refurbished. Under the program, more than 27,000 victims received support, over 16,000 survivors were tested for HIV and received their results, while close to 10,000 received treatment for HIV exposure. All 23 care centers established under the program are now absorbed under the authority of the SOCA Unit, thus ensuring their sustainability.

"Care and treatment for survivors of sexual gender-based violence is the first step toward prevention and justice," said Elizabeth Randolph, RTI technical manager for WJEI. "Survivors across South Africa, in urban and rural communities alike, have a place to go—the Thuthuzela Care Center—where they receive care, treatment, and justice and are protected from secondary victimization through an integrated 'one-stop' model."