Rape Crisis has lamented the importance of swift medical treatment after a rape amid the release of a probe into Paarl Hospital for allegedly turning away a 4-year-old child that was raped.
"Being denied medical treatment and a forensic examination immediately following a rape is unacceptable and is potentially detrimental to the victim’s health, and the collection of evidence needed to bring the perpetrator to justice," Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust’s Operations Manager, Nazma Hendricks, told Health24.
The hospital representative allegedly told the mother that because there was “no bleeding and her underwear was gone”, they should rather come back the next day. The mother further alleged that when the child was eventually seen, she was given medication without any instructions on how administer it.
Leaving victims vulnerable
"Medication to prevent HIV infection (this medication is called post-exposure prophylaxis) needs to be administered within 72 hours, but ideally within 6 hours or as soon as possible in order to be most effective."
This should have been the immediate priority, said Hendricks, especially since rape and HIV is so prevalent in the country.
"Aside from medical concerns, delaying the forensic examination means that vital evidence is lost from the body, which is the scene of the crime. Losing this evidence greatly reduces the chances that the perpetrator can be brought to justice," she said.
Hendricks noted that turning someone away when they are seeking help after such a traumatic incident only further distresses them.
"Service providers that come into contact with rape survivors and their families need to be sensitive to the role they play in that person’s trauma, and consequently their likelihood of following their case through to the end, which takes enormous courage."
A probe into the incident
Western Cape MEC for Health, Dr Nomafrench Mbombo, had an urgent meeting with the management of Paarl Hospital and district representatives of the Health Department.
"An urgent investigation into this specific incident has been conducted and a report is to be submitted to both the Minister and Premier," said Mbombo's spokesperson Luyanda Mfeka in a statement.
He noted that the case highlighted the need to review the standard protocols in place for managing cases where sexual assault is suspected.
"Both the hospital and the Department will update our protocols for reported rape cases so as to ensure these incidents are handled effectively and with care."
The outcomes of the meeting has resulted in prioritising the establishment of a Thuthuzela Care Centre (TCC), which are one-stop facilities that operate as a critical part of South Africa’s anti-rape strategy.
These centres allow the survivor to report the rape if they wish to, access medication and undergo a forensic examination all at one location.
Hendricks said the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust supports survivors of rape at three health facilities, two of which are TCC’s, however she bemoaned the lack of funding.
"Funding to a large number of TCC’s in the country has also recently been cut, meaning that many more will not have access to the benefits of these centres."