What is Rape?

Rape is a violent crime in which a person uses sexual acts to intentionally harm and hurt another. We cannot talk about rape in polite terms or hide the truth about it. Rape is an abuse of power and an abuse of sex.

It is important for rape survivors to understand the exact meaning of the laws on rape for two reasons:

  • Firstly, a rape survivor needs enough information about the law to know whether her case has a chance of succeeding or not.
  • Secondly, the survivor needs to know exactly what is expected of them to prove that the rapist is guilty in the eyes of the law.

The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act (Act 32 of 2007) has been in effect in South Africa since 16 December 2007. This law states that it is a crime to intentionally commit a sexual act against another person without that person’s consent.

The formal definition of rape currently [2018] used in our legal system is:

Any person who unlawfully and intentionally commits an act of sexual penetration with a complainant, without the consent of the complainant, is guilty of the offence of rape.

From the point of view of the law as well as from a medical perspective there are certain things that are necessary to do in the moments right after a rape. These moments are also important for the rape survivor’s emotional recovery from rape.

What to do if someone has raped you?

  • There are medicines you need to take (to prevent pregnancy or infection) that only work within 72 hours (three days) after the event.
  • Getting support immediately after the rape from someone that can help you, also helps you to recover emotionally. This support could be from someone close to you or from a professional service provider such as a nurse, a doctor or a trained rape counsellor.
  • If you are forced to make tough decisions in a hurry, while you are feeling shocked and abused, it helps to get good information, practical help and strong emotional support.
  • Deciding what to do about what has just happened to you as a victim of a violent crime can be extremely difficult if you are in shock or feeling bad.

The sooner you can get to a police station or a hospital the better, because:

  • the criminal has less chance to escape.
  • you may be able to remember more about the rape right afterwards.

there is physical or DNA evidence on your body that links the rapist to the crime, and this evidence fades within 72 hours (three days) after the event.

There is no time limit on reporting rape or laying a charge. However, the sooner this is done, the easier it is to get the medical and physical evidence needed for the court case. Delays in reporting may not be used against you in court, but forensic evidence (physical evidence such as semen and hairs left on your body after the rape) will be lost after 72 hours.

  1. Go to the police station nearest to where the rape took place. No survivor may be turned away simply because the rape took place a long time ago or was committed in the station area of another police station.
  2. A brief statement should be taken first and translated into your own language. If you are not in a state to have a full statement taken, the investigating officer will make an appointment with you for the following day or within 36 hours.
  3. You can ask to be seen in a private room at the police station and to give your statement to a female police officer.
  4. You have a right to be treated with respect for your dignity and to complain if this does not happen.

Straight after the rape

  1. Go to a safe place.

Do this as soon as possible.

  1. Tell the first person you see and trust about what has happened.

The first person you tell about the rape will sometimes be asked to go to court to support your story – this person is called the first contact witness. If this person is a stranger, write down his or her name, telephone number and address. This is important if you decide to report the rape, as the police will need to find that person and talk them.

  1. Go straight to a hospital or to a doctor to get the necessary medication.
  2. Get HIV treatment.

If you are not HIV positive and you fear that you have been exposed to HIV, you need to receive medical attention within 72 hours (three days) of exposure. Some studies show that you are better protected if you receive medicine to prevent HIV infection within 6-8 hours of exposure, so the sooner you receive medical attention, the better. If you are HIV negative, the hospital or clinic will give you antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) to prevent HIV infection. The ARVs form part of a group of medicines called post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). PEP consists of ARVs, emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy and antibiotics to prevent certain other diseases.

  1. You can still receive medical treatment even if you decide not to lay a charge.

Go to your doctor, or a government hospital or clinic. Say that you have been raped and that you want treatment. The doctor or nurse will ask your permission to do an HIV test. This is to find out whether you are HIV negative so that you can receive ARVs. It is very important that you take the entire 28-day course of medication. The medication might lead to unpleasant side effects, but don’t stop taking the medication. You should also think about having another HIV test after three months, as the HI virus can take three months to show up. The rapist might also have given you a sexually transmitted infection (STI). The doctor should put you on a course of antibiotics to prevent this. If you have any discomfort, itching or discharge after the rape, return to your doctor and ask for antibiotics to treat an STI.

  1. Ask for emergency contraception (the morning-after pill) to stop you from getting pregnant if you are not using any prevention methods. This medicine has to be taken within 72 hours (three days) of the rape. The pills might make you feel sick, and you will start to bleed. This bleeding is like a normal period.
  2. If you do fall pregnant from the rape you can choose to have an abortion, or termination of pregnancy (TOP), from a government hospital or clinic. District clinics will perform abortions up to 12 weeks into the pregnancy. Major hospitals and some private clinics will perform abortions up to 20 weeks.
  3. If you need time off work or school to recover or to deal with trauma and side effects from medication, ask your doctor to give you a medical certificate.
  4. Decide whether you want to report the rape to the police. You may not feel like making this decision so soon after being raped.

The police can be called to the hospital if you want to report what has happened to you. The police can also take you to a hospital if you are hurt, or they can call for an ambulance.

Even if you are not sure whether you wish to lay a charge, it is better to have the forensic examination done, so that the doctor can gather physical evidence for if you decide to lay a charge later. Physical evidence such as the rapist’s blood, semen or hair will be lost if you don’t have the forensic examination done as soon as possible after the rape. You will be examined by a clinical forensic practitioner, which is a nurse or doctor who has been specially trained to gather evidence of crimes and offer medical treatment. The examination may take a long time, and you might want someone you trust to be with you.

Talk to us

Need to talk? Call our 24-7 Helpline if you are a survivor of sexual violence or a loved one looking for ways to support a survivor.

HELPLINE: 021 447 9762

Download this information booklet: What is Rape?

Find out more on our website: https://rapecrisis.org.za/

Important Terms:

HIV: Human Immunodeficiency Virus –  a virus that attacks the immune system and causes AIDS.

AIDS: Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome – a disease that weakens the body’s immune system.

HIV negative: not having the virus that causes AIDS.

HIV positive: having the virus that causes AIDS.

Antiretroviral drugs (ARVs): medication that helps prevent HIV infection after you’ve been exposed to the virus.

Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP): a group of medications given to rape survivors, including ARVs to prevent HIV infection, emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy, and antibiotics.

Emergency contraception: the ‘morning-after pill’ –  a pill taken within 72 hours (three days) of sexual intercourse, to prevent pregnancy.

STI: Sexually Transmitted Infection also known as an STD, Sexually Transmitted Disease.

TOP: Termination of pregnancy.

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The Rape Survivors Justice Campaign

What is the Rape Survivors Justice Campaign?

We believe that rape survivors who are well supported in court make good witnesses. Good witnesses help achieve convictions and stronger sentencing of rapists. High conviction rates and strong sentences send a clear message to society that sexual violence will not be tolerated. These beliefs uphold and defend the right of all people in South Africa to live free from violence and support improved gender equality in our country.

The Rape Survivors Justice Campaign (RSJC) advocates for the planned and funded rollout of sexual offences courts across South Africa by the government.

The RSJC believes that the South African Government should be held accountable for making sure that all survivors of sexual violence have access to a sexual offences court.

Why is the Rape Survivors Justice Campaign important?

South Africa has one of the highest rates of rape in the world. We also have high levels of poverty and a very big difference between rich and poor in our country. These factors mean that rape survivors get very different kinds of support after being a victim of a sexual offence, depending on what community they live in and which police station they report the offence to.

We need more support in the criminal justice system so rape survivors will feel comfortable when reporting a crime.

“We need more support in the criminal justice system so rape survivors will feel comfortable when reporting a crime.”

Police do not always investigate a rape case properly. Even if the perpetrator is arrested, when it gets to court the survivor may be too distressed to answer questions from the prosecutor, magistrate, and defence attorneys.

Many victims find it very difficult to tell their story as they would want it heard. This is one of the biggest reasons why very few perpetrators are actually convicted and sentenced in court. Our research has shown that the government has also identified that improvements in the system are needed. In fact, the Department of Justice has promised to establish sexual offences courts across the country. But will the government make a strong enough effort to make this promise a reality?

Without higher conviction rates and stronger sentencing, the number of rape incidents in our country will never be reduced.

What is a sexual offences court?

Sexual offences courts are special court rooms that only deal with sexual offences such as rape. They provide specialised services to rape survivors and other witnesses.

A 2013 report details the Department of Justice’s new model for sexual offences courts, including the need for specialist personnel including specially trained prosecutors, court supporters and magistrates.

The report also notes requirements on the infrastructure of sexual offences court room layouts so that the survivor does not suffer secondary trauma from being in the court building. For example, it can be very traumatic for a survivor to walk past the perpetrator in one of the corridors. A sexual offences court has a special court room with a separate waiting room for witnesses and rape survivors, as well as a special testifying room with CCTV equipment so that children can testify from a separate room and not have to see the perpetrator while they talk about what happened.

Do we have enough specialised sexual offences courts in South Africa currently?

The South African Government has promised to implement sexual offences courts across the country, however; there are currently not enough of these specialised courts to serve the more than 50 000 survivors of rape that come forward to report their cases each year, let alone the many thousands more that do not.

Why these courts are important:

Sexual offences courts are important as they are sensitive to the survivor and help to:

  • make the trauma of a survivor much less.
  • speed up cases so they are completed more quickly.
  • make better court decisions or judgments because the people working in these courts are experts
    who are skilled and experienced.
  • give more people hope that reporting rape will work out well so more rape survivors will report
    their cases to the police.
  • get more convictions and send more perpetrators to jail.

How can I get involved?

You can get updates about everything that is happening in the Rape Survivors Justice Campaign by following the campaign on Facebook at RSJCampaign. You can also find more information on our website: http://www.rapecrisis.org.za/justice-campaign

Things that you can do to bring about change in your community:

  1. Join us…

Use social media to help us call for the development of sexual offences courts near you, using this information. Share the campaign’s status updates and photos with your friends and followers.

  1. Talk to a group you are part of about advocating for a sexual offences court near you.

This could be a community group, religious group or a group at your work. Tell them about sexual offences courts and the information in this booklet. If they want to join our campaign, let them know how they can learn more about the Rape Survivors Justice Campaign.

Support us

Support the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign today by scanning the SnapScan code and making a donation.

(SnapScan Mobile App is available to download on Google Play and the Apple App Store)

Donate online: https://rapecrisis.org.za/donate/

Find out more on our website: https://rapecrisis.org.za/justice-campaign/

Follow us on Facebook at RSJCampaign https://www.facebook.com/RSJCampaign/?ref=bookmarks 

Follow us on Twitter at @RSJCampaign https://twitter.com/RSJCampaign 

Call the Rape Crisis hotline 021 447 9762

Important Terms:

Advocacy: A series of actions that are done to work for change.

Criminal Justice System: A set of role players and processes set up by governments to control crime and to punish those who commit crime.

Download the RSJC booklet: https://bit.ly/2CY16Hw

What does Women’s Day mean for us?

National Women’s Day is celebrated as a day when we remember the over 20 000 diverse South African women who marched against the pass laws in 1956. Their march was a testament to the ideals of; “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free” (Fannie Lou Hamer).

In practise however, many people who work at Rape Crisis are confronted daily with the realities of violence against women and children in South Africa, and are finding it increasingly difficult to relate to the true meaning of Women’s Day because of how much progress we still have to make in fighting for our rights.

On the 1 August 2018 many women across South Africa took to the streets as part of the #TotalShutdown demonstrations. This started as a small, diverse group of women who decided ‘enough is enough’ and brought women to the streets to make a statement about the impunity against human rights violations especially in this case, the lack of justice for gender-based violence in this country.

Many women in South Africa still face the harsh realities of the staggering numbers of gender-based violence crimes which occur daily in our country. This is an issue which cannot be swept under the carpet and ignored. So, should we be using Women’s Day to highlight and celebrate the achievements of women? Or should we be using this day to take stock and get real about the numbers, the crimes, the rapes, the cat calling, the inequality, the sexual harassment and more that women face every day?

We chatted to our staff here at Rape Crisis about what “Women’s Day” means to them. Here are some of their thoughts;

“By being a woman I am extremely blessed. I can care, nurture, create and still earn an income to explore all my dreams that I have.”

“Women’s Day is about celebrating women in our country. We acknowledge their achievements, strengths and resilience. It is also a day where we advocate for those that are still oppressed and live in vulnerable situations.”

“Women’s day is about empowering women to be able to stand for themselves and to fight against gender-based violence.”

“I think the day should be spent highlighting the survival of women in a violent and patriarchal society! We should highlight that no matter how much patriarchy women are subject to we are still here, we still have a voice, we still fight for our rights, we still break the silence, we still feed our families, we still wake up in the morning to care for our families, we still work towards our empowerment and independence – we are still here.”

National Women’s Day can easily be overlooked as just another public holiday. But we can also use it to become aware of who’s fighting the good fight, to learn what we can do to help, to resist, and to celebrate those who inspire us. Organisations do their part by making these actions accessible, desirable, and consistently showing the change we can make if we support women and marginalised groups. Many people in the world are doing absolutely phenomenal work in the gender-based violence sector and other humanitarian sectors too. As a young person, I too am reminded about the importance of being an empowered woman, and what that means in today’s society, especially when women’s uprisings are becoming more and more common. Part of that empowerment is seeking the support and spreading the information so that more people have access and awareness.

Is the spirit of women taking leadership in social justice movements back? Is it being revived? I don’t know but maybe now is the time for hope.

Zeenat Hendricks Communications Coordinator for Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust

What makes up a sexual offences court

This is the third in a series of blogs written on the panel discussion we hosted in partnership with the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Law and Society on developing court models in South Africa. As you will know from the previous pieces I have written in this series, the discussion was lively and the researchers presented valuable information.

The idea of sexual offences courts is a home grown South African model, but it had its challenges. The report on the Re-Establishment of Sexual Offences Courts was released in 2013 and highlighted a lot of these challenges. It further tried to address some of these challenges by paying a great deal of attention to the infrastructure of sexual offences courts: the amount of waiting rooms, passages, doors, and chairs. We were of course very excited to see this blue print, simply because it is a thing of beauty.

And then the reality hit. Our state purses are near empty. In most court buildings there is simply no space for multiple waiting rooms and additional passages. There is not enough budget to even afford the number of chairs that the blue print requires. Rural courts do not have the resources to support such an expensive endeavour. This was echoed by the researchers during the panel discussion. While infrastructure is important insofar as it reduces secondary trauma, fancy infrastructure alone does not make a sexual offences court.

We realised that we had to fine tune our demands. Instead of demanding sexual offences courts according to the blue print, of which our government could probably only afford 10, we are lobbying the Department of Justice and others to roll out sexual offences courts across South Africa so that more survivors can access them. We have done this according to a new set of requirements and outlined these in the Regulations on Sexual Offences Courts. While the regulations are still in draft form, we are pushing for them to contain minimum requirements for infrastructure at sexual offences courts that are much less structurally demanding and therefore much more achievable. This has one goal – to reduce secondary trauma suffered by survivors. Because that is what our work boils down to; making the criminal justice system more supportive of survivors.

Jeanne Bodenstein is the coordinator of the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign for the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust.