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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How to talk about rape

 

Rape and violence against women is endemic in South Africa, but it is a thorny subject matter. How do we bring this discussion to the foreground in South Africa, what are the words we use and where do we start? 

Words matter. They matter because they are carriers not only of information, but carriers of feelings. When they land, words have the power to heal, revive, restore and educate but they also have an enormous power to debilitate and to trigger. But words are our thoughts, and without them we cannot speak, so how do we use them when we speak about rape? A violent scourge plaguing South Africa, encompassing noun, is not the heart of the very word [rape], triggering in itself?

One of the reasons mainstream media has come under scrutiny for reporting on sexual assaults against women is because they find themselves completely at a loss for sensitivity when it comes to reportage. So what do they do? They stop reporting on the incidents instead. Here’s what happens when issues stop appearing in the news – or better, appear less: Society stops talking about it, the discussion disappears into the shadow, voices are silenced, and communities suffer alone, by themselves.

Kathleen Dey, Director of Rape Crisis South Africa says, “Stories about rape form only about 1% of all media coverage. We need editorial commitment to increasing the volume of reporting without creating moral or compassion fatigue, so we need to be creative about how we produce content and messaging”.

Media needs to be at the forefront of taking on the responsibility about influencing society to have these conversations. Societies should be faced with stories that reflect sexual assault in a truthful, careful manner because a lot of culture in society is shaped by storytellers and one of the ways rape culture can cease to exist is by creating a space that is safer for women, girls and all survivors of sexual assault and one that is more threatening to rapists. But if we don’t talk about it, no one gets that message.

Dey also highlights the importance of engaging with communities, “We need to strengthen communication with communities affected by rape using multiple languages and platforms. We need to tell real stories about the lived experience of rape survivors being conscious of whose stories are told, who tells them, where they are told and how. We need these voices and messages to be amplified”.

 

“Journalists and other communications professionals need gender and diversity training so that they can speak to these issues in a more powerful way. Feminism has so much to teach us about how we tell stories and we need to have more discussion and debate at various levels on what this could be,” she continues.

The media is a mirror to society and society is a mirror to the media. So goes the old adage, but there is no time better than the present to take that very mirror and hold it up to those in government and make them face the scourge as well. The South African government has had its own anti-sexual-violence messaging tainted for too long by its very members committing a couple of heinous crimes which are not always adequately addressed. When the government fails, it also fails its people.

Dey says, “Government is a key audience. We need political will for addressing sexual violence now more than ever. Media can get to government… We need to challenge rape culture and explore ways of building a culture of respect for consent whatever context we are aiming to change through our engagements. We need to actively support women’s leadership”. That last portion begs special mention: Support women’s leadership.

Newsrooms, government offices and even police stations are rife with the imbalances of powers. Misogyny will always favour the powerful and silence the ones who have been sexually abused, sexually assaulted, raped etc. Up until the 1970s in some countries, women weren’t even allowed to testify in their own rape cases – she was considered not to be a reliable source of her own rape. Biblically, rape is referred to as a theft of property, not of the woman but of the father or husband. The men who “own” the women, and now, centuries after the great book we find ourselves in a position where far too few stories of women by women exist in order to bring about any real change.

Dey says, “There are few messages challenging patriarchy and challenging myths and stereotypes about rape.”

According to the Director of Rape Crisis, the media only report on about 1% of sexual assault stories. “There is a lack of a comprehensive messaging strategy on rape and sexual violence with key messages at the heart of each piece coming through without any degree of clarity.”

But while we work on our words, let’s make one thing clear: The discussion on rape needs to be made institutional in a way that brings about real change.

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of ‘Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa’. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @sage_of_absurd

Making strides in fighting for sexual offences courts

The Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign was conceived and established in 2016. We have one aim: the planned and funded rollout of sexual offences courts as promised by the government.

This is a big ask and we envision that this long-term advocacy campaign will probably take at least ten years. Since our launch on Women’s Day in 2016 we have made great strides and progress and we will continue to build on this in the future.

Our campaign advocates for the national rollout of sexual offences courts to such an extent that all rape survivors will eventually have access to a specialised court. We believe that these courts should first be established in areas with high rates of reported sexual offences, which is one of the issues that we advocate for in the regulations and our engagement with the Department of Justice.

Locally, we have also chosen to specifically lobby for a sexual offences court to be established in Khayelitsha. Rape Crisis has an office in Khayelitsha and the police stations in the area consistently have some of the highest rates of reported sexual offences in the country without a specialist court to serve the community.

Here are some highlights of our achievements from the past two years:

August 2016: Launch of the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign. We made submissions to the High Level Panel on Key Legislation about the importance of having a legislative framework for sexual offences courts in South Africa.

November 2016: We gathered in front of the Khayelitsha Regional Court to demand that it be upgraded to a sexual offences court.

December 2016: We made oral submissions to the High Level Panel on Key Legislation about the importance of a legislative framework for sexual offences courts.

March 2017: We made written submissions to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services on the legislation for courts that deal exclusively with sexual offences.

May 2017: We made additional oral submissions to the Portfolio Committee regarding the exclusivity of sexual offences courts. We also engaged with Regional Court Presidents and the Deputy Minister of Justice to assist with the drafting of the sections of the Judicial Matters Amendment Bill 2016, that gives the Minister the power to establish these courts, including a definition of the courts.

September 2017: We Lobbied the Department of Justice to release the Regulations for sexual offences courts for public comment.

October 2017: We attended the National Forum on the Implementation of the Sexual Offences Act to lobby for the draft regulations to be released and to lobby the Deputy Minister of Justice for the establishment of a sexual offences court in Khayelitsha.

November 2017: Community activists gathered in front of the Khayelitsha Court and handed over a memorandum to the Deputy Minister of Justice to demand the upgrade to the Khayelitsha Court.

December 2017 to January 2018: The draft regulations were released for public comment. We made submissions on the regulations, specifically lobbying for a meeting with the relevant departments.

February 2018: We met with the Deputy Minister at the Khayelitsha Court to discuss proposed changes and upgrades.

March 2018: A meeting with the Departments of Justice, Police, Social Development, NPA and fellow Shukumisa Coalition members to lobby for the regulations to reflect attainable minimum standards as well as lobbying for specialist court support.

April 2018: We directly lobbied the Deputy Minister of Justice for the regulations to be finalised. We engaged with the drafters of the regulations regarding next steps and hosted a research panel discussion to highlight the successes and challenges of how courts deal with sexual offences.

May 2018: We submitted a report to the Deputy Minister setting out recommendations for the upgrades at the Khayelitsha Court.

July 2018: A meeting with the relevant Departments again to workshop the regulations. The main wins from this have been; the inclusion of court support in the regulations, the regulations will be a set of “minimum requirements” for sexual offences courts and the Department is tasked to come up with a list of minimum criteria for how to decide where to establish sexual offences courts.

September 2018: Consult with Rape Crisis’s court support team and coalition partners to on how the role of court support should be described in the regulations.

October 2018: Submit input to Department of Justice setting out the regulations relating to court support in sexual offences courts.

Initially the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign demanded that government rollout sexual offences courts in accordance with their own Blue Print set out in the MATTSO report[1]. However, through engagement with government decision makers in different departments as well as research done by academic institutions, we discovered that there was real concern that the model might very well be unattainable in the country’s current financial position. While the specialised personnel and services are key in reducing secondary trauma and ensuring that complainants continue to testify in a sexual

[1] Ministerial Advisory Task Team on the Adjudication of Sexual Offence Matters. The Report on the Re-Establishment of Sexual Offences Courts. 2013 offences case, the Blue Print also contains extensive and very costly infrastructural requirements. At most Regional Courts in the Country, these are simply not implementable.

We used the opportunity to lobby for the release of the Draft Regulations for Sexual Offences Courts, which will give detailed instructions on achievable requirements. While the regulations are still in draft form, we are pushing for them to contain minimum requirements for services, personnel and infrastructure at sexual offences courts with one goal: to reduce secondary trauma suffered by survivors. This way the objectives of sexual offences courts can be achieved within resource constraints.

The Departments of Justice and Constitutional Development as well as the National Prosecuting Authority includes the rollout of sexual offences courts in their Departments’ Annual Performance Plans (APP) and also report on the achievements of these targets at the end of their financial year. The rollout of sexual offences courts includes a staffing component as well as an infrastructure component and therefore the APPs will speak to these issues.

Hopefully by the end of the year, the regulations will be finalised and then Section 55A of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act, 32 of 2007 can come into operation.

 

The real numbers on sexual offences

In South Africa less than 1% of sexual offences result in justice for the victims of these crimes. The estimated number of sexual offences in South Africa is 645 580 each year and only one in 13 of these sexual offences are reported to the police. In other words, only 7,7% of sexual offences that take place are reported to police while 92,3% are unreported.

In 2017, 49 660 sexual offences were reported to the police and of these only 6 868 were prosecuted. So only 13,8% of cases that are reported are taken to court. (For more details on why this is the case read our article.)

Of the 6 868 cases that were prosecuted, 5 001 cases resulted in convictions.

5 001 convictions for 645 580 sexual offences crimes means that the actual percentage of sexual offence crimes that are convicted is 0,77%. We want this to change. That is why we are fighting for sexual offences courts

Statistics breakdown:

Estimated sexual offences in South Africa each year: 645 580

Number of reported sexual offences in South Africa per year (2017): 49 660

Number of sexual offence cases that were prosecuted in South Africa in one year: 6 868

Number of sexual offence cases that resulted in convictions: 5 001

Actual percentage of sexual offence crimes that are convicted: 0,77%

Resources: National Prosecuting Authority 2018/19 Annual Performance Plan: https://pmg.org.za/committee-meeting/26249/ Crime Stats SA: https://www.crimestatssa.com/national.php

The War at Home – Gender Based Violence Indicators Project, 1 November 2012: http://genderlinks.org.za/programme-web-menu/publications/the-war-at-home-gbv-indicators-project-2011-08-16/

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