After rape, people are given anti-retroviral (ARV) medication to prevent HIV-infection. This treatment is called Post-exposure prophylaxis or PEP. Anti-retroviral medicines are mostly given to people once they have AIDS but anti-retroviral medicines can help to prevent HIV infections if they are taken within 72 hours (3 days) of being raped. PEP is not a guarantee that you will not get HIV after rape and you need follow-up tests for up to six months after a rape.
Rape victims do not have to report the rape to police to get PEP. Healthcare workers also do not have to report rape to the police if the victim is over 16 years of age.
A few guidelines around PEP
- PEP does not work if taken after 72 hours. This means it is really important that rape victims get to a health facility as soon as possible after the rape.
- PEP medicines must be taken for 28 days. Please see our guide to taking PEP
- PEP medicines can have unpleasant side-effects, but PEP will not work unless the medicines are taken when they are supposed to be
- You must know your HIV status before you start PEP
Why you need to know your HIV status before taking PEP
You can’t be given PEP treatment if you are already HIV-positive. If HIV-positive people take anti-retroviral medicines and then stop, they can develop resistance to these medicines and they will not work properly when someone begins to develop AIDS symptoms.
You won’t be given PEP treatment if you refuse to take a HIV test.
Tests that are positive immediately after rape mean that you were already infected with HIV before the rape and you will be referred for counselling about living with HIV, and to a clinic to monitor your health.
By law, a rape victim may ask the police to test a rape suspect for HIV if he is arrested
- A court will order a rape suspect to go for a HIV test
- A rape suspect can only be tested up to 90 days after the rape occurred
If a rape suspect tests HIV-negative, you should still complete the PEP treatment and go for follow-up HIV tests as the doctor suggests.
If a rape suspect tests HIV-positive, it is very important to take PEP medicines properly, and to take more HIV tests to be sure that you have not contracted HIV.
Even if you feel very angry, you are not allowed to tell others that a rape suspect has HIV, whether by writing to a newspaper or publishing on social networks like Facebook or Twitter.
Counselling can help you to deal with your feelings.
Download a booklet: How to deal with HIV after rape
This booklet aims to help anyone who has been raped to try to reduce their risk of getting HIV. It also explains how to report rape and what to do if you want to know the HIV status of your rapist.
This booklet is reproduced here courtesy of Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre