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Background: Despite the well-known impact of rape on mental health and the widespread problem of rape in South Africa, mental health services for rape victims are scant and not a priority for acute-phase services. Survivors encounter multiple mental health struggles in this period including adherence to the post-exposure prophylaxis drugs to prevent HIV and finding support from important others. We have little information on what mental health is provided, by whom and how it is integrated into the post-rape package of care.
Aim: The aim of the study was to do a rapid appraisal of mental health services for rape survivors to gain a better understanding of the current acute and long-term (secondary) mental health services.
Method: We conducted a qualitative study using a rapid assessment with a purposive sample of 14 rape survivors and 43 service providers recruited from post-rape sexual assault services in urban and rural Western Cape Province. Data were collected using semi-structured in-depth interviews and observations of survivor sessions with counsellors, nurses and doctors. The data were coded thematically for analysis.
Results: Survivors of rape experienced a range of emotional difficulties and presented varying levels of distress and various levels of coping. Receiving support and care from others assisted them, but the poor integration of mental health within post-rape services meant few received formal mental health support or effective referrals. Multiple factors contributed to the poor integration: mental health was not given the same level of priority as other rape services (i.e. clinical care, including forensic management), the inadequate capacity of service providers to provide mental healthcare, including mental health illiteracy, the lack of continuity of care, the poor linkages to ongoing mental healthcare, and the mental health challenges caused by vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue.
Conclusion: Providing effective, compassionate mental health services should be seen as essential components of post-rape care. The strengthening of support for providers and linkages to ongoing mental