JOHANNESBURG, 13 July 2009 (PlusNews) - Sexual abuse is
widespread in South Africa's prisons, but the provision of health
services to this vulnerable population remains problematic.
A rights group, Just Detention International (JDI), alleges that
overcrowding, staff shortages and a culture of violence in
correctional facilities are fuelling sexual abuse and rape -
crimes against which there is little or no protection.
JDI Programme Director Cynthia Totten said a recent study at
South Africa's Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison, 25km outside
Cape Town, found that inmates at high risk of HIV infection had
inadequate access to condoms, lubricant and medical services.
In some cases, forced or coerced sex in prison may be part of
being initiated into one of South Africa's notorious "Numbers
gangs", like the infamous 27s and 28s, said Sasha Gear, a
researcher at the South Africa-based Centre for the Study of
Violence and Reconciliation.
In other cases it may be about manipulation, like being tricked
into accumulating a debt in the form of drugs, food or protection
that will have to be repaid with sex, she told IRIN/PlusNews.
"I met a 15-year-old boy in prison who said he would look after
me ... he invited me to sleep with him [in the same bunk] for
protection, and in the middle of the night he sodomised me," one
inmate told Totten. "I was angry and demoralized ... this wasn't
supposed to happen to me."
As of March 2008, most of South Africa's prisons were housing 50
percent more prisoners than they were designed to accommodate,
according to comments submitted to parliament by then
Correctional Services Minister Ngconde Balfour.
Big court cases, little change
Despite a ground-breaking ruling in 2006 that guaranteed access
to treatment for prisoners, Totten said there had been little
change, and the quality of HIV-related health services varied
from prison to prison.
"All inmates are supposed to have access to condoms, but it's so
problematic in prisons that once the dispenser runs out of
condoms it could be months or weeks before it's refilled," she
said. "And where condoms are distributed, there's no lubricant,
so you find inmates using substitutes for lubricant that could
comprise the condoms' integrity."
Data on HIV prevalence among inmates are hard to come by, but a
2006 survey by the Department of Correctional Services in its
Westville prison, outside the east-coast port of Durban,
indicated an infection rate of 22 percent.