Raped: what to do

Young girls in South Africa say there is not enough information available about what to do after being raped, according to a recent study published in the South African Medical Journal (SAMJ).

This information comes in the light of a shocking rape survey, indicating that one in four South African men questioned had raped someone, with almost half admitting to having attacked more than one victim.

Young girls make up a third of all rape victims in South Africa, according to the SAMJ article.

Researchers questioned 315 first year female students living in residence on campus at the University of the Free State (UFS) about their knowledge of post-rape procedures and guidelines.

Alarmingly 84% of the girls said the information available on post-rape guidelines was insufficient and were eager to obtain adequate information.

Girls who said they had received information on rape, were asked to complete some questions to indicate the steps they would take, in the event of being raped.

  • None of the girls indicated that they would go to a safe place.
  • None of the girls were aware that no alcohol or medication should be consumed after having been raped. Consumption of any substances after the incident could influence the outcome of the rape survivor’s medical examination.
  • Less than 40% knew that they should not wash or take a bath or shower after having been raped.
  • About two-thirds of the girls were convinced that the rape survivor should go directly to the police, whereas it is recommended that she should go to a hospital first, from where the police can be called.
  • 25% of the girls revealed that they knew someone who had been raped.
  • When asked what they would do to help the rape survivor, in almost 75% of cases, their responses were inappropriate or not applicable.

Since the girls interviewed consisted mainly of students who had recently matriculated, researchers propose that adequate information on rape guidelines should be addressed at school level.

Here are some guidelines following a rape situation.

What to do after the rape?

Don’t bath or change your clothes
Even though it is a natural reaction to want to wash, do not take a shower or bath as this may destroy vital evidence needed in your case.
Do not change your clothes as these may carry blood, semen and other bodily fluid which can be used as evidence.
If you can manage, do not go to the toilet or brush your teeth.

Don’t consume alcohol
Don’t drink any alcohol or take any medication before going to the police since this can influence the outcome of the medical examination, and you will also need to make a statement.

Contact a friend/family
The first person you tell about the rape is called the first witness. This person may need to make a statement to the police about your condition and if possible, should accompany you to the hospital/police station.
Contact a friend or family member you trust for support.

See a doctor first
It is recommended that you visit the nearest clinic, hospital or doctor first. It is preferable to not visit a family doctor as he/she may not be trained for this type of medical investigation. The doctor must be willing to testify in court.
Ask the clinic/doctor to contact the police. You could also ask the police to visit your home but this may take longer.

Dealing with the police
Initially only a brief statement is required from you. Make sure you read over the statement before signing it. You can provide a more detailed statement later.

At the police station you have the right to:

  • make your statement in a private room
  • make your statement to a female officer (if there is one)
  • make your statement in your own language
  • have a friend/family member with you for support
  • Get a copy of your affidavit (you are entitled by law), name of the investigating officer and case number.

    Get the number of the police station you can call to check progress on your case.

    If a suspect has been caught, make sure they inform you of a bail application. You have no right to testify at the bail application, but you can find out the name of the prosecutor and the court where the hearing will take place.

    You can approach the Chief Prosecutor or Prosecutor in charge of Sexual Offences before the bail hearing and disclose your fears if the suspect is released on bail.

    What happens during the medical examination?

    Try and remember
    Provide as much details as you can of the incident to the doctor examining you. This may serve as useful evidence.

    Rape kit
    The doctor needs to complete a rape kit, this includes taking note of any injuries, scrapings under finger nails, evidence of sperm from your vagina and looking for possible DNA.
    No male officer may be present at the examination and once again, you have the right to have a friend or relative with you to support you.

    It is important to get antiretrovirals (ARVs) within 72 hours of penetration, attempted penetration, oral sex, or anal sex to reduce the possibility of contracting HIV.
    Before getting the medication, you will need to undergo an HIV test. Government policy is that if you are already HIV positive, you will not be given the antiretrovirals.

    STDs and pregnancy
    During the first doctor’s examination you may need to take in quite a lot of medication. Doctors may prescribe medicines to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and further infections such as hepatitis, and to prevent pregnancy.
    If you are already pregnant when you are raped, talk to the doctor about the possibilities of your unborn baby becoming infected with HIV.

    Forensic evidence
    Doctors may ask for your clothes and other evidence which will be sealed in a paper, not plastic bag. Plastic bags can cause degradation of biological material (such as semen) as a result of the heat in the bag.
    All evidence is entered into a special police crime kit.

    Unhappy with investigation
    If you are unhappy with the police investigation complain to the Independent Complaints Directorate at 012 392 0400. If you are unhappy with the treatment given to you by the Courts, telephone the office of the National Director of Public Prosecutions in Pretoria, 012 317 5000 or 012 317 5784 and ask for the Sexual Offences Unit.

    Getting support
    Rape Trauma Syndrome (RTS) is a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that often affects rape survivors. This psychological disorder can be very debilitating. It is important to get some form of support or counselling after being raped, as you will have many emotions and concerns that you will need to work through.

    Free counselling services are offered by many organisations including Lifeline, Childline, Rape Crisis, Powa, and others.

    (Thania Gopal, Health24, June 2009)

    Fonternnel TE, Krantz LEW, Greyling L, Van der Schyff Y, Steinberg WJ, Joubert G, South African Medical Journal, Knowledge of post-rape procedures and guidelines among first-year female resident students at the University of the Free State, November 2008, Vol.98, No 11
    Rape crisis Helderberg

    Read more:
    1 in 4 SA men are 'rapists'
    Rape survivors plan of action

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