RAPE victims are vulnerable groups who should be protected and reminded not to destroy evidence after the rape incident. In many cases, victims are infected with sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/Aids. This was revealed by HIV/Aids non-governmental organisation (NGO) Right to Care this week. The recent crime statistics, released by national Minister of Police General Bheki Cele, revealed that about 40 035 rapes occurred between 2017 and 2018. This is an increase from last year’s report that showed 39 828 cases reported. About 110 rapes were reported to the police daily in South Africa. According to Right to Care, victims should not destroy crucial evidence after the incident. Right to Care called on all who are victims of rape or sexual assault to report the crime to the police and to access healthcare services at the nearest healthcare facility as soon as possible. Right to Care spokesperson Palesa Khambi said: “We know that most acts of gender-based violence are committed by men against women and that HIV incidence and new HIV infections are the highest in young women compared to men. “However, men can also be raped, and when they are, they may also suffer unnecessary ridicule from their peers and the community regarding their sexuality,” Khambi said. Consensual and non-consensual sex without condoms spreads HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and in women can lead to unintended pregnancies. “If you have been raped or sexually assaulted, retain the evidence on your clothes and body and get to a police station as soon as possible. “Rape is a crime, it wasn’t your fault, even if you were under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time. It can be difficult to report a rape and we know there have been cases where further trauma is experienced at the police station. However, if the case is not reported, the rapist will walk free, and is likely to rape again,” Khambi said. The NGO said, after reporting the rape, the victim should go to the nearest clinic or health facility. Khambi said the healthcare staff will assist with HIV and STI testing, treatment including post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), and they will help a female victim deal with pregnancy risks. Healthcare workers can also link the victim to ongoing care and support. “The Thuthuzela Care Centres, located in provinces throughout South Africa, have become a vital part of dealing with the aftermath of rape and sexual assault in South Africa. Their focus is on reducing secondary trauma for the victim, improving conviction rates and reducing the time for finalising cases. “They operate in public hospitals in communities where the incidence of rape is high and they are also linked to the sexual offences courts, which are a new South African anti-rape intervention,” added Khambi.At the police station the victim has the right to be taken to a private room and a female officer can be requested. The police should also provide information on accessing healthcare and counselling services. Khambi said, after the victim has been raped or sexually assaulted, they must not wash or throw away their clothes as there might be hair, blood, saliva or semen on the body or clothes that can be used as evidence to find and convict the rapist. Khambi said clothes should be wrapped in newspaper, not a plastic bag which damages the evidence. “If you go to the toilet, keep the toilet paper because it is highly likely to contain evidence, allow it to dry and then put it in an envelope or paper bag — not a plastic bag. “By doing this, there is a far better chance of convicting the rapist. If a rapist is jailed, this sends a clear message to his peers and the broader community that rape is a punishable crime with serious consequences,” Khambi said.