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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Progress at the Khayelitsha court

The Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign has been working for almost two years advocating for the establishment of a sexual offences court at the Khayelitsha court. While the advocacy and engagement process is never easy we feel we have made some steady progress in working towards this goal. As we plan our next protest to advocate for sexual offences courts during the 16 Days of Activism campaign we thought we would reflect on just how far we have come since we started this project in 2016.

Early on in the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign we, together with community members, expressed support for the establishment of a sexual offences court in Khayelitsha. During the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence in December 2016 we gathered as a community in front of the Khayelitsha court to demand a dedicated sexual offences court be built. At the end of our protest during 16 Days of Activism, we handed over a memorandum to this effect to the Department of Justice.

The current court supporter office is a container, which is located outside of the Khayelitsha court fence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2017 the situation at the Khayelitsha court did not change and we realised that we were going to have to gather there again to voice our demands for a sexual offences court. During the course of 2017 we lobbied the Deputy Minister of Justice to accept our memorandum at our gathering in December 2017. Upon receipt of the memorandum, the Deputy Minister expressed his intention to seriously explore the possibilities of establishing a sexual offences court in Khayelitsha.

As a result of our demands the Deputy Minister asked that the Gender Health and Justice Research Unit (GHJRU) include Khayelitsha in their study on improved case outcomes in sexual offences. We offered to assist with this, specifically focusing on the fieldwork at Khayelitsha taking place in January 2018. We also placed the issue of the office space currently occupied by our court supporter on the forefront of the agenda as something that should be addressed.

During our fieldwork, we reviewed more than 100 sexual offence court dockets. The outcome of this will be covered in a report that will be released by the GHJRU.

The Deputy Minister of Justice visited the Khayelitsha court again during February 2018, with the specific aim of improving the infrastructure of the courtroom and surrounding facilities that are used to hear sexual offences cases.

We enlisted the help of architect Tiffany Melles, from Michelle Sandilands Architects, who agreed to work pro-bono to design the improvements for the court. We then drafted a report and sent it to the Regional Head of the Department of Justice setting out the background, problem statement and recommendations. Our advocacy coordinator, court support coordinator, architect, Khayelitsha Court Manager, Area Court Manager and Senior Public Prosecutor at Khayelitsha met on 11 May 2018, so that we could discuss the plans and draft the report with them. They were very enthusiastic about the proposed changes. Following this meeting the plans and report were sent to the Regional Head and Deputy Minister.

This is the courtyard of the Khayelitsha court where we propose two new units for the sexual offences court supporters should be placed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we await the plans to be approved and implemented, the Department of Justice has prepared an interim office for the court supporter by partitioning a section of the intermediary room. This was done for safety purposes as the previous court supporter room was outside of the court security fence.

Our court support coordinator and advocacy coordinator have met with the Regional Head (Hishaam Mohamed) and two of his staff who work on court facilities. We convinced them that the mobile units together with the minor capital works proposed in our report and plans will, in fact, provide them with a long-term solution. Once the Regional Head and his team understood the logic of the plans, they seemed enthusiastic about our plans for the court. We want this court model to be the pilot for the country of the use of mobile units. As we stand now the Department is in the process of getting quotes for the ‘building’ works and we are in the process of getting quotes for the mobile units.

We are so pleased to have had such positive engagement with stakeholders as this project has progressed and look forward to working with the Department of Justice to make our vision for this court a reality.

Download our report: Report on Recommended Changes to Khayelitsha Court Supporter Office. 

Take a look at our proposed plans for the Khayelitsha sexual offences court here: RSJC Khayelitsha Sexual Offences Court plans.

 

Rape from the courts perspective

Currently in South Africa survivors of sexual assault and rape often feel that the criminal justice system does not support them. This is why we are fighting for specialised sexual offences courts specialised sexual offences courts that only deal with sexual offences cases and provide special services to survivors. Therefore it is very important to understand exactly what is expected and required in order to prove that a rapist is guilty in the eyes of the law.

From the law and the court’s perspective there are certain things that are essential in making a solid case and having the case result in a conviction. To help you we have put together a list of the key steps you must take in order to provide the prosecutor and the courts with the strongest case possible against your assailant.

What evidence is needed to build a strong rape case: What can survivors do?

  1. Physical evidence

If you have been raped or assaulted do not remove your clothes or wash. Go straight to the nearest police station and request medical attention. There will be physical evidence on your body and clothes that will link the rapist to the crime and it is important that this evidence is collected as soon as possible after the rape. Physical or DNA evidence fades within 72 hours (three days) after the event so the sooner you have this evidence collected and submitted to the police the better.

If you know of a nearby hospital that is a designated as a forensic unit for assessing rape cases you may go straight there but it is important to note that not all hospitals or health facilities deal with rape cases.

  1. Forensic examination

In order to collect physical evidence such as the rapist’s saliva, blood, semen or hair you will need to have a forensic examination done within three days (or 72 hours) after the rape provided you have not washed this evidence away. You will be examined by a clinical forensic practitioner, which means a nurse or doctor who has been specially trained to gather evidence of crimes and offer medical treatment. This is often the strongest evidence in a rape case so it is important you have a forensic examination. However if more than three days have passed your case does still stand a chance of being heard so this should not stop you from reporting rape to the police.

It is also very important that you go to the hospital and get the required treatment. This will include antiretroviral drugs to prevent HIV, emergency contraception, antibiotics and the possible treatment of any injuries.

  1. First contact witness

The first person you talk to after you have been raped and tell about the rape is called the first contact witness. It is important that you speak to someone you trust and that you have this person’s contact details as the police will want to talk to them. They may be required to appear in court and give evidence to support your story.

  1. Police statement

You will need to give the police a statement of what happened. From the point of view of the law the sooner you can do this the better as the criminal has less chance to escape and you may be able to remember more about the rape right after it happened. If you are not in a position to have a full statement taken, you can give a brief statement and the investigating officer will make an appointment with you for the following day or ideally within 36 hours.

From the point of view of the prosecutor and the law, the more evidence that is collected and the sooner it is gathered after the crime the stronger the case will be in court. Once you have gone through these steps you can take some time to recover and decide whether or not you want to lay a charge against the person who raped you. 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 evidence is there should you decide to lay a charge at a later date. Having strong evidence strengthens your case, and helps convict criminals, and to empower you as a survivor and as a witness in court.

For more information and practical advice on what to do if you are raped you can read our booklet; You and Rape, the essential guide for rape survivors.  

Download the You and Rape English booklet. https://rapecrisis.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/English.pdf

Download the You and Rape Afrikaans booklet. https://rapecrisis.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Afrikaans.pdf

For further information Shukumisa http://shukumisa.org.za has created a comprehensive guide called; Women know your rights, a simplified guide to your rights against sexual violence. Download it here.  http://shukumisa.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Woman-know-your-rights.pdf

The numbers of change: If you don’t like numbers, then this blog is for you

By Jeanne Bodenstein

The Indian writer and mathematical genius, Shakuntala Devi, once said “Numbers have life, they’re not just symbols on paper”.

I realise that some of you reading this, might not care about numbers at all. Unless you are an accountant. Or a maths teacher. Or someone that is into Soduku. But, to be honest, I do like numbers. And I like the stories that they tell. And such a story I found in an unlikely place last week…

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I attended the meeting of the parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services where the Department of Justice presented their Annual Report for the year of 2016/2017. This is an opportunity for the Department to tell the Committee if their targets have been achieved and to present proof in numbers.

Side note: A large part of the parliamentary Portfolio Committees’ role is to oversee the work of the National Executive (i.e. various government departments) and you will know that I am always interested in how parliament does this.

It is easy to attend a meeting like the one last week and not even see the specifics when the numbers flash by (at record speed, mind you). Overwhelming numbers. But, interested as I am, I look for the stories behind the numbers so that I can share them with you, obviously. One such story, was the story about sexual offences courts. The Department told the Committee that 11 courtrooms across provinces were upgraded to sexual offences courtrooms during the past year, completing the first phase of the rollout.

This number tells the story of the rural community of Tsolo, Eastern Cape, where survivors now have access to specialised services to help them get through the difficult process of giving their testimony in court. The magistrate and prosecutors at this court have been specially trained to deal with sexual offences and the court room is designed in such a way that rape survivors will not have to wait in the same waiting room as the accused or his supporters, child witnesses will be able to give their testimony in a separate room using Closed Circuit Television and support services will have their own offices to offer confidential support to rape survivors and other witnesses for the state. Cases will be processed and finalised more quickly because only sexual offences cases will be heard in this court room.

Added to this, 106 more courtrooms will be upgraded in the second phase of the rollout, bringing the total sexual offences courtrooms to 163 at the end of phase two. This is huge, because it means that more than half of the total number of regional courts across the country will have sexual offences courtrooms. More than half of the survivors of sexual violence in South Africa will receive support in the criminal justice system.

By looking for the stories that these numbers tell, the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign can continue to ask the right questions of the relevant people at the right time. We will continue to hold government accountable for the rollout of sexual offences courts, so that rape survivors can tell their stories in supportive courtrooms and in the presence of supportive people. And we will continue to ask for more numbers until the story they tell is that our government has honoured its promise. You can follow us on Facebook to read more of our stories of change and to share this with your friends.

 

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Jeanne Bodenstein

Jeanne is the Advocacy Coordinator at the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust and heads the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign. She likes wine, pizza and recently rediscovered her love for mystery novels.