Women's Justice and Empowerment Initiative Improves Rape Survivor Care in South Africa, Helps 27,000 Women

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – As part of ongoing efforts to help address challenges faced by women and girls worldwide, RTI implemented the Women's Justice and Empowerment Initiative in South Africa, helping the South African Government to establish 23 additional Thuthuzela rape survivor care centers in all nine provinces that have helped more than 27,000 women.

Throughout the $14.4 million four-year project, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, RTI worked with the Sexual Offences and Community Affairs (SOCA) Unit of South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority to implement and expand the country's Thuthuzela Care Centers.

Considered a bold new approach to rape care management, the Thuthuzela model—whose name derives from the Xhosa word for "comfort"—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. The model was developed by SOCA Unit and taken to scale under the project.

RTI helped SOCA develop a sustainable and independent management system for the centers, awarded grants to non-governmental organizations for efficient access to legal and social services, and disseminated best practices and lessons learned on management of sexual and gender-based violence regionally and internationally.

As part of the program, between 2008 and 2012, 23 new Thuthuzela Care Centers were established in all nine provinces in South Africa. In addition, seven existing centers were refurbished. More than 27,000 victims received support, more than 16,000 survivors were tested for HIV and received their results, and close to 10,000 received treatment for HIV exposure.

"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, Ph.D., RTI chief of party for the project.

Under the Thuthuzela model, care begins at the police station as 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.

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

All 23 care centers established under the program are now absorbed under the authority of the SOCA Unit to ensure their sustainability.


map showing South Africa


  • RTI implemented the Women's Justice and Empowerment Initiative in South Africa to improve the treatment of rape survivors
  • The project helped establish 23 new rape survivor care centers in all nine provinces, helping more than 27,000 women
  • The four-year project was funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development