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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A mother’s eight arduous years of searching finally over

By Wengi Africa

As a counsellor at Rape Crisis we face many challenges but always we learn from our clients in the process.  Working with refugee clients is different, it is hard, makes us feel helpless and that we can never do enough. That sitting there and thinking about the different resources that are available are never going to be enough.  The story I would like to tell you about is one that has shown me that I should never give up, that small things can make a difference that change can happen and perhaps not in the way that we think it could.

*Ndege is 38 years old and came from the Congo to South Africa.  I started counselling Ndege who was experiencing depression and symptoms of trauma.  What struck me though was the story of why she was in South Africa.  As a refugee, fleeing from her home, surviving multiple rapes, she came to South Africa because she had this idea that her children had travelled here.  Ndege walked through different countries searching for her children; she went through Malawi, Tanzania, and Zambia searching for them in each country to no avail.  Her feet became bloodied and toenails torn but she carried on.  Each time she walked past a child, she would look at them to see whether it was her own child and then wonder about her children.  She had a very clear picture in her mind of each of her 13 children, what they looked like, how they sounded.  She held the picture of each of her children in her mind.  She always had the hope that she would find them.

She told me the story of how she was parted from her children during the war.  One of her 13 children was 8 months old at the time and still being breastfed.  I felt completely sad and concerned because of what it evokes in me as a mother and the thought of what it would be like for me to be parted from my children.  She told me that she didn’t care that her 8 month old would now be grown up; she would still put him on her back and carry him around.  It felt important to try and mobilise our resources in order to see whether she could be reunited with her children.  I contacted Petronille Mukarugwiza from the Tracing Department at the International Red Cross and set up an appointment for Ndege to see her.  Before meeting with Petronille, Ndege was relating the story of her missing children to a neighbour who then said that she had heard that Ndege’s children might be on the Uganda and DRC border.

Her neighbour called someone who lived in the area who was then able to confirm the location of her children.  Ndege was given the number for her eldest daughter.  Imagine Ndege’s joy at being able to speak to her daughter whom she had prayed was still alive and well after 8 years of being parted!  The International Organization on Migration (IOM) interviewed Ndege and agreed to help Ndege reunite with her children in the DRC.  It was a coincidence that I was in the office and had just had a supervision meeting when the crisis line received a call for me.  I answered and it was Ndege calling from the DRC to say how happy she was, she sounded very excited – I wish everyone could hear the joy that I heard.  She was so joyous I could hardly hear all that she was trying to tell me on the phone.  Her son recognised her, the children were fine and they were all very happy to be together again.

Ndege’s story has given me hope, courage and a sense of motivation.  Her story evokes joy within me and I have a renewed appreciation of myself and what I do.  What I take from Ndege is that we should never give up, there are always small things that can change lives.  A small conversation with a neighbour lead to a very profound change in one woman’s life and those of her children.  The importance of communication and listening to others… taking that time.

Thank you to Zoe Rohde and her team at the IOM.  The logistics were not easy to arrange but Ndege says that she was treated “like a queen” returning home after a long absence.  IOM staff accompanied Ndege at each point on her journey home.

*The survivor’s name has been changed to protect her identity.