By Emily Keehn
In March 2012, Sonke launched a new publication, “Mapping the Legal Framework to Prevent Sexual Violence & HIV in South Africa’s Correctional Facilities.” Sexual violence and HIV and AIDS are key areas of concern for Sonke, as inmates experience both at heightened proportions. HIV and sexual violence are inherently linked, particularly in South Africa’s prisons where external estimates for HIV range between 40-60%.
The detention environment (e.g. overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions) is highly conducive to the spread of HIV, swift development of AIDS, and perpetration of sexual violence. These issues first and foremost constitute serious violations of inmates’ rights guaranteed under the Constitution as well as South African and international law. However, prison rape also fuels a cycle of victimization and perpetration and contributes to the rape of women, men and children and to the spread of HIV in their communities after inmates’ release. Improved policies and practices that effectively prevent HIV and sexual abuse of inmates will improve the well being of not only prisoners, but also the wider population.
Sonke’s policy paper examines the history of correctional policies on HIV and sexual violence prevention, outlines the current framework, assessing it in comparison to international standards, and highlights policy gaps. The paper also outlines various mechanisms that contribute to the marginalization of inmates and their heightened vulnerability to HIV and sexual abuse. Lastly, the paper calls for renewed energy to be given to these issues by relevant government entities, and for civil society to be galvanized and potentially consider stronger advocacy approaches that bore fruit in the past. The issues of prison rape and the spread of HIV must be tackled with the urgency they are due.
This paper was produced with support from the MAC AIDS Fund and the Open Society Foundation for South Africa.