BuaNews, October 24 2002, HIV Treatment Takes Precedence Over Rape Law
By Veronica Mohapeloa
Human rights groups have emphasised the importance of Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) to protect rape victims against HIV infection, whether or not a rape suspect is arrested.
This follows the approval by Cabinet yesterday of the Compulsory HIV Testing of Alleged Sexual Offenders Bill.
The Bill provides 'for a speedy and uncomplicated mechanism for victims of sexual offences to apply for the alleged perpetrator to be tested for HIV and the results disclosed to the victim'.
PEP is a programme announced by government in April, in which rape survivors receive antiretrovirals in the public health sector within 72 hours, to prevent HIV infection.
Spokesperson for the AIDS Law Project Liesl Grientholtz said it was important to acknowledge that the legislation would not help many women because very few rape suspects were in fact arrested.
But, she said in the cases where perpetrators were actually tested, the legislation would give many women peace of mind, from knowing their HIV status.
She added that the process should be fast-tracked for victims to receive the necessary treatment against HIV/AIDS, and police, doctors and other healthcare workers should be empowered to be able to give information regarding where and how to obtain treatment.
Chairperson of Child Line South Africa Joan van Niekerk has hailed the Bill as a step forward to protect the rights of the victims, saying the legislation would give women some sense of power to regain control of their lives.
'There is nothing as disempowering as rape. That an alleged perpetrator can be tested for HIV will give women control of their psychological wellbeing,' said Ms Van Niekerk.
Echoing the sentiment of the AIDS Law Project, she emphasised that PEP should be prioritised, even if an alleged perpetrator tested negative.
According to her, a shortcoming in the law was that if the offender tested HIV negative, it might prevent the victim from taking antiretrovirals, while their perpetrator could be in the window period, in which infection is not yet apparent.
While nonetheless hailing the Bill as a positive move, she said government should prioritise counselling services, especially in the rural areas where this was limited, to help victims deal with the immense impact of rape.
Human Rights Commission chairperson Jody Kollapen for his part, recommended proper pre-and post-counselling for HIV for offenders, should they be required to undergo a test for HIV/AIDS and test positive.
'Whether or not an alleged perpetrator is guilty, pre- and post-HIV counselling should be provided, such as in a normal situation,' said Advocate Kollapen.
Commenting on the Bill, Adv Kollapen said should a victim require testing, it was reasonable for a suspect to be tested also, given the huge extent of the epidemic in the country.
Considering also the fact that rape violated human rights, the need for an HIV test limited the alleged perpetrator's rights, he explained.