Adams* into an overcrowded cell in Allandale Prison, near South Africa’s Cape
Town, 10 years ago. That first night, Adams was raped by two men, and he was
repeatedly assaulted during much of his time behind bars.
“Two gangsters came over to me and made me stand naked in front of the gang,”
he said recently, now out of prison and working at a hospital. “They did things
After his ordeal, a nurse told him, simply, “This is what happens in prison.”
When he complained, the warder laughed at him.
Adams says he contracted HIV from those assaults. But because he was still
awaiting trial, he had to wait two months to see a psychologist, and, despite
begging for an HIV test, it would be two years before he was diagnosed. He was
not given access to antiretrovirals, and only started taking them after his
“In prison, everyone knew I had AIDS because they changed my meal plan,” he
told IRIN/PlusNews. “There was no discretion.”
He still has recurring nightmares. At age 37, he lives with his mother, who
refuses to wash his clothes because he is HIV-positive.
He is now taking the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) to court to
claim damages for his suffering. “I am angry,” Adams said. “I have no friends
and no love life, and nobody in the department even cares.”
Sexual violence widespread in prisons Sexual violence and the subsequent spread of HIV is “regrettably
common” in South Africa’s prisons, said Lukas Muntingh, coordinator of the Civil
Society Prison Reform Initiative, run by the University of the Western Cape Law
The severe rate of overcrowding – over 200 percent in some prisons –
exacerbates the situation by worsening health conditions and overwhelming personnel.
In 2006, DCS conducted a national HIV and syphilis prevalence survey among its
prisoners and staff, and found prevalence levels ranging from 19 to 60 percent
in some prisons.
Sexual violence is widely accepted by both inmates and prison authorities as
part of the prison experience in South Africa, said Sasha Gear, programme
director of Just Detention International (JDI), an international
organization that aims to end sexual violence in prisons. Warders receive no
training on preventing or responding to sexual violence; reports from prisoners
show that warders are aware of the extent of sexual violence, and sometimes
even encourage it.
hypermasculine, homophobic attitudes among both inmates and staff, which
encourage sexual predators to target men perceived as not “manly” enough.
“Vulnerable inmates, such as those who are young, gay, new to prison, of small
build, mentally disabled and non-aggressive are often forced to provide sex to
other inmates – usually for the duration of their incarcerations,” Gear said.
There are currently no policies in place to ensure that sexual assault laws are
implemented in prisons.
In 2010, the Framework to Address Sexual Abuse of Inmates in DCS Facilities was
developed by JDI, the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, and
DCS officials to address the policy gap in DCS’s handling of sexual violence,
said Emily Keehn, manager of the prisons programme at Sonke Gender Justice
Network, which is advocating for the implementation of the framework.
The document was handed over to DCS for consideration and, hopefully, implementation.
Two years later, the authors have no idea what happened to it.
But this year, thanks in large part to civil society initiatives, statistics on
prison assaults will be disaggregated into different categories, including
sexual violence, for the first time in the annual report by the Judicial
Inspectorate of Correctional Services, the government-appointed oversight body.
This will enable better understanding of the scale of sexual violence in the
Spilling into the community Inmates who have been sexually victimized often take the scars of abuse home
with them, said Welcome Witbooi, who completed a 13-year sentence three months
ago. He is now working at Sonke Gender Justice Network.
“Offenders who have been sexually abused take it out on children and women.
They want to reclaim their masculinity,” he said. “An offender who has been
raped doesn’t see a child. He sees an object that he can abuse.”
The trauma and HIV acquired during prison sexual violence then bleed into families
others, are similarly fed back into broader society when inmates are released,”
Support for HIV-positive inmates Although a ruling in 2006 guaranteed access to antiretroviral
treatment for prisoners, the quality of HIV-related health services varies from prison to
Access to antiretrovirals is often unreliable, with inmates waiting months
before receiving their medication. “With a disease where adherence to a
medication programme is vital, these gaps are very dangerous to inmates’
health,” Keehn told IRIN/PlusNews.
DCS also provides condoms to inmates, but it does not provide lubricant to
prevent the condoms from breaking during anal sex. “Access to [HIV] testing is
uneven and depends on many factors, like the specific prison and whether there
is a motivated HIV coordinator on staff,” she added.
In addition, inmates living with HIV often face discrimination by their peers
and DCS staff. Shortages in medical and counselling staff, and a lack of
understanding about HIV by inmates and staff, make life very difficult and
lonely for HIV-positive inmates.