Original Research

Healthcare workers’ perceptions of sexual violence during the COVID-19 pandemic in the Eastern Cape

Nolundi Kwinana, Charity Masilela, Oladele V. Adeniyi
African Journal of Primary Health Care & Family Medicine | Vol 15, No 1 | a4087 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/phcfm.v15i1.4087 | © 2023 Nolundi Kwinana, Charity Masilela, Oladele V. Adeniyi | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 15 March 2023 | Published: 28 September 2023

About the author(s)

Nolundi Kwinana, Department of Public Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Fort Hare, East London, South Africa
Charity Masilela, Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology, Faculty of Sciences, Agriculture and Engineering, University of Zululand, KwaDlangezwa, South Africa
Oladele V. Adeniyi, Department of Family Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, Walter Sisulu University, Mthatha, South Africa; and Department of Family Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, Cecilia Makiwane Hospital, East London, South Africa


Background: The South African government implemented lockdown restrictions in order to prevent the spread of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2).

Aim: This study explored the effects of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic on sexual violence in the Eastern Cape province through the lens of healthcare workers’ (HCWs) experiences.

Setting: A Thuthuzela care centre in the Eastern Cape province, South Africa.

Methods: This qualitative study brings together the findings from thematic analysis of semi-structured interviews conducted among 11 purposively selected HCWs in May 2022.

Results: Overall, three themes emerged from the study: the effects of COVID-19 on sexual violence, profile of the survivors and recommendations for combating sexual violence in the region. Most respondents believed that the COVID-19 pandemic caused a surge in the incidence of sexual violence, although all acknowledged that movement restrictions affected reporting. The participants treated mostly black women and children’s survivors, who experienced physical injuries simultaneously. The respondents’ narratives revealed that educational campaigns targeting boys and men could reduce sexual violence in the region. In addition, it was recommended that stricter laws and harsher penalties would serve as deterrents for perpetrators of sexual violence in the country.

Conclusion: The COVID-19 lockdown restrictions exposed the vulnerabilities of black women and children to sexual violence in the study setting. Educational programmes aimed at re-orientating boys and men in both rural and urban communities should be implemented.

Contributions: This study provides an insight into the perceived effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on sexual violence in the Amathole district and South Africa.


children; Eastern Cape; gender-based violence; girls; sexual violence; South Africa; women.

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 5: Gender equality


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