South Africans have been alarmed at the many news flashes of brutal child rape cases unfolding. The Red Cross Children’s hospital treated 137 children under the age of 13 for rape last year. Just last week the hospital treated a 5-year-old girl that had been viciously raped. She has already undergone three operations, says the Trauma Unit Head, Professor van As. South Africa is yet to discover the driver behind this carnage.
According to Child Abuse Team at the Red Cross Children’s hospital, 25 000 sexual offences are reported to the police every year and, since approximately only 1 in 9 rapes are reported, it can be assumed that the annual number could reach 225 000.
The study says that disclosure of the rape causes significant distress for the child and his/her family. Medical tests, hospital admittance, speaking to social workers, medical staff and policemen are all major disruptive forces for any rape victim, especially a child.
It has been found that 99% of perpetrators are male, and often has considerable power over the victim. Parents should always bear in mind that perpetrators are often a well-known friend, family member or breadwinner. This contributes to the fact that a high percentage of sexually abused children do not disclose their rape because they have been threatened. According to Solidarity Helping Hand 60 cases of child rape are reported in South Africa every day. More than 88% of child rapes are never brought out in the open, which means that about 530 child rapes could be taking place every day – one rape every three minutes.
Talk to your children about sex
Most children will feel uncomfortable discussing a rape with their parents because they haven't openly discussed sexual issues. Having regular discussions with your children about sex and sexual issues might make it easier for them to come forward. “The perpetrators often cloud the child’s judgment about the abuse and make the child (falsely!) believe that it is also guilty. This of course is intended to prevent the child from disclosing”, says Van As.
What to do when your child discloses that he/she had been raped
Although it is natural for the parents of a child rape victim to seek immediate medical care, the most practical is often to go straight to the police station. “The case can then be reported, forensic evidence be taken and the police can usually provide or arrange direct transport to the hospital in case medical care is required”, he says.
- It is only natural to want to wash the crime away. However, it is important to convince your child not to take a shower or bathe to wash off semen and blood.
- Also, try to prevent your child from using the toilet or changing clothes before reporting the rape. Your child’s body and clothes have become evidence that will assist police in finding the perpetrator. Your check-up will include evidence collection.
- Don't brush your hair because it may contain evidence.
- Do not brush your teeth if you have been forced to perform oral sex because there may be evidence.
- If your child does change clothes, do not put the evidence in a plastic bag. The heat in the bag can destroy biological material (semen, blood, saliva). Use a paper bag instead.
- Encourage your child to tell you about what happened. Make a note of names, dates, times, and locations. This will spare excessive questioning which can make a child feel that the adult does not believe him or her.
- If you are the first person your daughter told about the rape, you are the first witness. You will have to make a statement to the police about your daughter’s physical condition and emotional state.
- It is important to bear in mind that you have a 72-hourwindow to report your child’s rape, if the child wants to lay a charge. Know that reporting the crime does not oblige you to appear in court.
- The police will ask you to sign a form to consent to a medical examination by the District Surgeon. You can choose to be examined by a private doctor instead, but the doctor must be prepared to testify in court. Most GPs do not have rape training, and most doctors do not carry the J88 form, which, for purposes of prosecution, needs to be completed during an examination.
- It is important for you to seek counselling for your child and for yourself. Even though you weren't the victim of rape, your child was and you will also have to deal with it.
(Zaakirah Rossier, Health24, November 2010)
Child Abuse Team, Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, Van As AB, Whithers M, Millar AWJ, Rode H. Child rape – patterns of injury, management and outcome. S Afr Med J 2001; 91: 1035-1038
Solidarity Helping Hand, June 2009 press release, one child raped every three minutes in South Africa;
Rape Crisis, Cape Town Trust;
Peter Jordaan, Your child has been sexually abused, molested or raped – what do I do now?