Anja van den Berg
Although the accuracy of statistics pertaining to rape in South Africa is contested by some organisations, sexual assault is clearly a prevalent problem in the country. Statistics provided by the South African Police Service reveals that 42 596 rapes were reported in 2015/16.
The most powerful factor in determining how people respond to rape is the nature of the traumatic event itself, says the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, the oldest organisation of its kind in South Africa.
“Not only is there the element of surprise, the threat of death and the threat of injury, there is also the violation of the person. This violation is physical, emotional and moral and associated with the closest human intimacy of sexual contact. The intention of the rapist is often to profane this most private aspect of the person and render the victim utterly helpless.”
The trauma of rape is often compounded by the myths, prejudice and stigma associated with rape. Survivors who have internalised these myths have to fight feelings of guilt and shame. The burden can be overwhelming, especially if the people they come into contact with reinforce those myths and prejudices. Rape is never the survivor’s.
If you have been raped or sexually assaulted, you may sustain both physical and emotional injuries. The Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust and Health24 offer the following guidelines on what to do after you’ve been raped:
- Go to a safe place as soon as possible.
- Tell somebody you trust and disclose as much detail as you can. This person will probably be called as witness in court to support your case should you choose to press charges.
- Go straight to a hospital or a doctor if you are badly injured. They will phone the police on your behalf should you wish them to do so.
- Do not take a bath or shower before you go to the hospital or doctor. There might be hair, blood or semen on your body or clothes that can be used as evidence of the rape. A doctor will do a forensic medical examination by examining every part of your body to find and collect samples of hair, blood or semen. This is part of the police investigation and aims to gather medical evidence of the crime.
- Report the assault as soon as possible at the police station nearest to where the attack took place. Ask a friend or family member to go with you for support. Keep the name of the police officer in charge of your case and your case number.
- Make sure to specifically underline the fact that you fear retribution or intimidation by the perpetrator when reporting the crime.
- Turn to a medical practitioner for help even if you decide not to report the assault to the police.
- Make sure that you take the following medicines within 72 hours:
- The Morning After Pill (MAP) to prevent pregnancy
- An HIV test and antiretroviral treatment to prevent HIV infection
- Antibiotics to prevent a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI)
- Get support. Ask for pamphlets or booklets on rape and the number of a local counselling service to give you further support and advice about the police matter, court case and any other effects of the rape.
- Get medical treatment and report the matter to the police even if you were under the influence of alcohol at the time of the rape. Being intoxicated is not a crime; forcing somebody to have sex is – no matter what the circumstances were.
Being able to talk to someone who understands is an important step towards recovery. The Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust has a 24-hour crisis line (021 447 9762) where victims can speak to experienced counsellors in English, Afrikaans or Xhosa.
American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress, 2014, “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Rape Survivors”, http://www.aaets.org/article178.htm
Africa Check, 2016, “FACTSHEET: South Africa’s 2015/16 crime statistics”, https://africacheck.org/factsheets/factsheet-south-africas-201516-crime-statistics/
Health24, 2015, “What to do if you are raped”, http://www.health24.com/Lifestyle/Woman/Your-life/what-to-do-if-you-are-raped-20151204
Kate Wilkinson, 2015, “GUIDE: Rape statistics in South Africa”, Africa Check, https://africacheck.org/factsheets/guide-rape-statistics-in-south-africa/
Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, 2017, http://rapecrisis.org.za/