The brutal violation and murder of 17-year-old Anene Booysen in Bredasdorp has prompted debate and united South Africans against a crime that happens every four minutes in this country. It also illustrated how little is known about sexual assault.
“Rape is a crime that leaves its victims feeling violated, powerless and hopeless. Survivors of rape often don’t know what to do,” says Mande Toubkin, Netcare’s general manager emergency, trauma, transplant and corporate social investment.
Since 1998, Netcare has been a major catalyst behind a countrywide initiative to establish the necessary protocols and equip health professionals with the vital skills and knowledge to ensure that the rights and dignity of sexual assault survivors are not compromised.
Netcare has 37 Sexual Assault Centres in operation throughout the country. Dedicated to providing professional healthcare and compassion to survivors of rape, these specialist units have treated over 8 600 patients since their inception, 86% of whom were female and 5% men.
The Netcare Sexual Assault Centres offer free counselling to men, women and children immediately after a rape and for a year thereafter, irrespective of whether the rape survivor is medically insured or not. If necessary, anti-pregnancy medication and antiretroviral therapy are also offered.
“Sexual assault survivors, whether they are adults or children, have been hurt and violated in a deeply personal way, that infinite care should be taken to ensure that the treatment they receive does not add to their trauma,” asserts Toubkin.
The hours immediately following sexual assault are crucial, observes Toubkin. “How you behave, the decisions you make, the people you talk to will have a tremendous impact on the recovery process and the successful prosecution of the rapist. Every person should have some idea of the best procedure to follow in such a situation.”
Families and friends should be sensitive to the way a rape survivor behaves and how he or she is coping. If the person does not want to talk about it, do not force the issue, but listen patiently instead. If he or she does not want to be hugged or touched, avoid doing so. These are all normal reactions and may occur at different times during the recovery process. Rape survivors need to know that what has happened to them is not their fault and that their loved ones believe in them and do not blame them, says Toubkin.
What to do if you are raped
Before you do anything else, get support as this is one time in your life when you need to feel strong and empowered. This is the time to insist on getting what you need, but it is also a time when you will feel most vulnerable. For these reasons it is vital to call on someone who can be tough and assertive on your behalf. “The person you speak to first is very important as he or she may be called upon as a witness at the trial. It is best to choose someone who was not there at the time of the attack,” says Nicky Baltsoucos, national trauma coordinator at Netcare.
Netcare’s Sexual Assault Centres are integrated into the emergency departments of the majority of Netcare hospitals and provide rape survivors with holistic treatment. This holistic service focuses on addressing their physical injuries, ensuring that the right procedures are followed in collecting evidence from them, assisting them in reporting the rape as well as providing counselling to help them overcome emotional trauma.
“The units are all staffed by caring and compassionate individuals. In the case of child victims we work closely with organisations such as the Teddy Bear and Rainbow clinics. We also have an excellent relationship with the SAPS and are able to assist victims in reporting sexual assault. This means that patients can come directly to one of our centres without being sent from pillar to post,” adds Baltsoucos.
Advice for rape survivors who are not close to a support centre
Reporting the rape: One of the first decisions you have to take is whether to report the rape or not. For this, you need a realistic idea of what will follow. If you report the rape to the police, you will have to preserve the evidence as well as possible - that means not washing yourself or changing your clothes - until you have been seen by a doctor who will later usually be your chief witness in court.
In practice, most people report the matter to the police first and are afterwards referred to a doctor. The ideal situation is to first seek medical assistance from a doctor who is able to manage sexual assault cases. When making your statement to the police, be aware of your rights. You can have any family member or friend with you while making the statement. Ideally, you should be seen by a woman police officer. If you feel uncomfortable about dealing with any police officer, say so, and request that someone else talk to you. You should be able to make your statement in private.
You will most likely be very shaken, so bear in mind that you can amend your statement later if you feel you left something out. You can make your statement in your home language, and you should be given a copy of it, either immediately or later. Take the case number, the telephone number and the name of the investigating officer so you can follow up later. Leave your own contact details, so the investigating officer can let you know if the suspect has been arrested and also if he has been released on bail.
Medical examinations following a rape: Your treating doctor should make notes of any injuries you have sustained, and assess the age of those injuries. This is very important, as the defence will likely claim you sustained the injuries earlier. She or he will do an internal examination, take semen samples, take pubic hair samples and do an AIDS test to see if you were HIV-negative at the time of the attack.
Checklist: after a rape
Have you reported the rape to the police?
Have you been seen by a doctor who is able to manage sexual assault cases?
Have anti-retrovirals against HIV, the morning-after pill if necessary and the necessary drugs to ward off other sexually transmitted diseases been prescribed to you?
Have you been referred for counselling, or contacted a rape crisis centre?
Also remember that you should return for follow-up HIV testing two weeks and six weeks later, as well as three months, six months and a year later.
Have you been kept informed by the police of any progress in the case?
For the names and contact details of the Netcare Sexual Assault Centre nearest to you, please visit www.netcare.co.za.
Note to editors
Since South Africa’s #stoprape awareness campaign gained momentum, Netcare’s Sexual Assault Centres have been inundated with offers of help. Should you wish to assist our centres the following items would help:
Toiletry bag or handbag
New panties and underpants of all sizes, for adults and children
Hairbrush / comb
These items are provided to survivors of sexual assault as often they feel the need to cleanse and refresh themselves in order to restore some sense of normality to their lives. Assistance can also be obtained for men, women and children from LifeLine’s Rape Crisis Centre on 0861322322 or from the Women Abuse Helpline on 0800150150.
Issued by: Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare Sexual Assault Centres
Contact: Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney or Monique Vanek
Telephone: (011) 469 3016
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org