20 November 2019

Survey findings from medical humanitarian organisation Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and Meraki Research defy the perception that young adults in South Africa, aged 18-35 years, are apathetic and disengaged from social issues.

The results indicate youth are actively engaged and eager to take a stand.

The survey identified sexual violence and abuse as one of the top humanitarian crises facing society today for young people.

The biggest problem is rape in our country and the woman who get raped are scared to report,” said one male respondent from Mpumalanga.

Healthcare for survivors of sexual violence rated as one of the top four most important healthcare services in South Africa for 18-35 year olds.

Support for organisations providing medical care to survivors of sexual violence was near unanimous, with 96% of respondents affirming they would stand up for the cause.

Youth Survey 2019
 As part of MSF's comprehensive sexual violence project in Rustenburg, Body Mapping is used to help survivors of sexual violence identify the internal and external scars and hardships that they are living with and working through. Photo: Melanie Wenger/Cosmos

For survivors, sexual violence is a medical emergency. MSF’s work in Rustenburg providing medical and psychological care to survivors proves this.

Our medical staff have seen how sexual and gender-based violence, and especially rape, has severe detrimental effects on the survivor’s physical and mental health.

Women who have been raped are exposed to mental and physical trauma, unwanted pregnancy, loss of pre-existing pregnancy, or acquisition of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

Psychological consequences can include post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression, suicidality, and substance abuse.

Treatment first! Because if such an act is committed against you, your personal care should be more important than anything else.

Claudine Pillay

In the survey, the vast majority 72% of respondents said they would advise a friend surviving sexual violence to seek help at a rape crisis centre.

However, almost half of 18-35 year olds surveyed believed that survivors of sexual violence should first report the incident to police before receiving medical care.

MSF’s research and experience suggests an emphasis on the legal aspect of dealing with SGBV obscures the serious medical and psychological needs of survivors therefore creating a barrier to accessing appropriate and comprehensive healthcare.

Reporting and the availability of supportive police and justice processes is important but these services should work in such a way that the urgent medical emergency needs of survivors are addressed immediately.

Young people clearly agree on this prioritisation: “Treatment first! Because if such an act is committed against you, your personal care should be more important than anything else. I mean, police procedure can take time and you should be comfortable speaking to the police and I think it is more important to be actually be treated, for your injuries to be treated before,” said Claudine Pillay, 24, KZN.

The prevalence and intensity of sexual violence in South African society demands a response that demonstrates commitment and urgency to the needs of survivors combined with citizen’s support to ensure it remains a priority for government and communities.

Young people in South Africa are ready to take a stand. They have a key role to play in reframing our society’s understanding of sexual violence to put the medical and psychological needs of survivors at the centre of South Africa’s response to SGBV. We are encouraged that they are ready to stand with us,” says Guilhem Molinie, General Director of MSF Southern Africa.

Read MSF Southern Africa’s Youth Survey Edition 1