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

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Support Thuthuzela Care Centres #EnditNow

By Kathleen Dey

I’m listening to a rape survivor tell a conference room filled with people the story of how she was raped at the age of 14, shot, shoved into a pit latrine and left for dead. How she didn’t die. How she lived. How she crawled to safety. How she named her assailant and sent him to jail for life. How she lives with a bullet in her neck. How she prevailed against thoughts of suicide by finding the Rape Crisis counselling service. How she wrote a book about her experiences called Dear Bullet or a letter to my shooter. Many in the audience are in tears. Others are shocked even though they are experts in this field. As she ends she says, “We need to stop rape. We need to save rape survivors by helping them to talk.” Her name is Sixolile Mbalo.

Dear Bullet

In the 20 years since Sixolile was raped South Africa has escalated its response to gender based violence, combining criminal justice, medical and mental health related services in an innovative model called the Thuthuzela Care Centres. At these centres, based in hospitals around the country, counsellors called first responders meet each survivor as they arrive to greet them, calm them down and contain them until they are composed enough to be able to absorb information. They then inform them about the complex processes involved in reporting rape and walk them through the process step by step: A nurse will counsel the survivor about potential health risks including potential HIV infection and prepare them for the forensic examination, which is conducted by a doctor specially trained to collect forensic evidence for the crimes of rape and sexual assault.

After this examination the first responder gives the survivor a care pack containing toiletries so that she can shower, change into clean underwear and brush her teeth. A police detective will either take a statement immediately or escort the survivor to their home and make an arrangement to take the statement the following day. Before they leave the nurse will make sure that if the HIV test was negative that the survivor has Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) medication to prevent HIV, pregnancy and STIs. The first responder will make sure the survivor has contact details for ongoing counselling services for future reference as well as an information booklet on recovering from rape. As this case makes its way through the criminal justice system it will be supervised by a specially trained prosecutor and investigated by a specially trained detective. As they adhere to the PEP regimen survivors are followed up to ensure they complete the full course and do not seroconvert and become HIV positive.

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Thuthuzela Care Centre Coordinator, Nomnqweno Gqada with the care back bags rape survivors receive at TCC’s.

At the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust we see over of 3 000 rape survivors a year at these centres. We see the extraordinary impact this care has on survivors, making sure they don’t struggle and suffer as Sixolile did but get the help they need right from the very beginning in the hours immediately after the rape. We see the incredible collaboration between medical teams, police officials and NGOs. These NGOs are gathered today to discuss the future of the Thuthuzela Care Centres.

A future that seems suddenly uncertain. The South African Government has not given any clear signs that it will continue this project once foreign donor funding comes to an end. With 50 centres across the country the budget for maintaining these services is high. Where will the funding for this budget come from? Foreign donor policies are moving towards prevention and away from care, seeming to ignore the preventive role that care plays in the cycle of violence. The impact on economic development of gender based violence is significant, with women, who are still bearing the main brunt of these crimes forming a major portion of the workforce or supporting that workforce. The Thuthuzela Care Centres represent the state’s most comprehensive response to gender based violence especially when coupled with specialised sexual offences courts. Yet many donors are unwilling to subsidise services they consider the responsibility of the South African government.

The fact is that these services remain dependent on a strong collaboration between donors, both local and international, the government and civil society. The goals of each of these three sets of actors complement one another perfectly while their roles in achieving free, accessible services post rape to survivors are different. If this three way partnership were to fail, with no commitment from donors or from the state to continue to support survivors in the years to come, what will be the fate of these survivors?

One thing is certain. South African civil society is strong. The conference hall is full, the audience attentive. Many have been in the sector for long years and have accumulated a wealth of experience and expertise. Panel after panel present successful results and in depth research. The evidence is rich and absorbing. With such success to hand this partnership should never fail. Sixolile’s message should be heard. #EnditNow

 

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Kathleen Dey is director of the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust.