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By Maddie Eagan
Bundled in a shiny black belted-down coat and purple turtleneck, Nozwelo Ncube welcomed us to Simelela Centre Site B Day Hospital as we left the reception area where a woman was sitting and waiting--her right eye bruised and swollen.
Simelela is a "one-stop shop" for survivors of sexual and domestic violence in Khayelitsha, a Cape Town township with over 700,000 mostly black inhabitants, said Ncube. It provides counseling sessions, forensic tests, sexually transmitted infection prevention medications, and emergency contraception.
In addition, the client has an option of opening a court case, she said. Simelela will contact the on-call South African Police Service (SAPS), which will come to collect a statement. The clients also receive referrals for local organizations that provide psychological support. But, according to Ncube, only six of 23 cases took advantage of these referrals last month--a large concern for Simelela.
Because of significant underreporting, only 60 cases were brought forward last month, said Ncube. They included 21 under the age of 12 years old, 24 from 12 to 18, and 24 over 18 years old. Some victims may not seek help because of lack of knowledge, the cyclical structure of the abuse, or prior discouraging experiences with the system.
"They go straight back into the same environment, and nothing changes," said Ncube, a Zimbabwean immigrant who has worked at Simelela for one year.
District Manager Caroline Tsetsana said she sees changes in the women that come forward and undergo a two-day assertiveness program that Simelela offers. The first day, most have little self-esteem, and it is hard for them to open up. By the second day, they arrive early, are ready to share, and show signs of improved strength and confidence. Other Simelela programs include Kitchen Aid, Family Strengthening, and a counseling for perpetrators.
The diversity of sexual abuse victims is vast, said Tsetsana, describing a well-to-do white woman who came in with dark sunglasses to hide her swollen black eyes, her Mercedes keys in hand.
Many men also come in to the center simply for advice, unaware that their stories are considered abuse, she said. Sexual and domestic abuse occurs among all sectors of the population, but it is it is especially prevalent in Khayeltisha due to the overcrowding, the poverty and the high level of unemployment.
A tour of the facility includes a blood-testing room for perpetrators with bars on the windows, stark white walls, and a separate entrance; examination rooms for the victims with comforting photographs and posters; and a bathroom where clients can wash the mud and dirt off of them after being abused.
Another woman, probably abused, sat by herself in the reception area. She was waiting to start the process.