Surviving the violence of rape and sexual assault involves more than just reporting the crime. The crucial part of protecting yourself from further harm and seeking the help you need is receiving medical and counselling attention ASAP. Even if you’re not on medical aid, South Africa has a number of public healthcare facilities that will assist you free of charge.
Rape Crisis Cape Town is an organisation empowering survivors of sexual assault and abuse. Their Rape & You booklet, available in print and online, outlines the DOs and DON’Ts of your right to demand care and what to expect when you receive a medical examination.
Immediately after you’ve been assaulted
1 Get to safety
SMS *134*7355# – Tears Foundation offers Help At Your Fingertips, a free mobile portal service that tracks your location and sends back details on the nearest care facility that provides support for survivors within 45 seconds.
2 Do not wash yourself or your clothes
If you want to report your rape to the police and lay a charge, this is very NB. Retain any evidence that may have traces of blood, saliva, semen and any useful DNA to help with the investigation.
Keep clothes in a paper bag or wrap them in newspaper – plastic bags destroy the integrity of the evidence.
Rape Crisis suggests not to drink anything – even water – or take any medicine or smoke before a doctor examines you. If you do, it’s important to tell the doctor what you have taken. Also collect any toilet paper or sanitary material and place in a paper bag.
3 Get help
If you’re injured in any way, you should seek medical attention immediately. If you want to go to the nearest police station first, they will assist you in getting to a clinic or hospital. ‘The National Police Instructions on Sexual Offences require that the survivor be given a medical examination and care as soon as possible,’ says Rape Crisis.
If you’re not already HIV positive, you need to get to a facility within 72 hours to receive post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).
What to expect when you undergo a medical examination
- If you went to a hospital without going to the police first, the health worker will ask if you’ve reported your rape to the police. ‘If, and only if, the survivor wants to report the rape, a police officer will be asked to come to the health facility to get a statement,’ says a representative of Rape Crisis.
- A clinical forensic practitioner will examine you. This is a nurse or doctor who has been specially trained to gather evidence of crimes and offer medical treatment.
- Before the clinical forensic practitioner can begin the examination, you need to sign an SAPS 308 form to give your consent to being examined.
- If you wish to report a rape, you will need to undergo a sexual-assault examination kit (SAEK). Request this if you wish to include this as evidence. (If you came with a police officer having gone to a station first, the investigation officer (IO) should request this at the hospital. The SAEK will then be packaged and transported to a lab for analysis.
- The practitioner will ask for your medical history. This includes when, where and what happened during the rape. They will also ask other questions such as when last you had consensual sex, whether you’ve had children and when you last menstruated. This helps the doctor determine if injuries such as tears in your vagina are from the rape or from another sexual encounter.
- Once you’ve given your consent and signed the SAPS 308 form, you’ll be asked to remove your clothes for evidence while standing on a large sheet of paper.
- Next the doctor will take a swab inside your mouth to try and obtain a saliva sample from the rapist. If the rapist did not kiss or orally rape you, tell the doctor immediately.
- You’ll be asked to lie down on an examination table and the doctor will examine your whole body.
- The doctor will take samples to find evidence of the rapist’s hair, saliva and semen. So it’s important to tell the doctor where the rapist touched you and whether you scratched him, so that as much evidence as possible can be collected. This can be traumatic, especially after you’ve been assaulted. Rape Crisis wants you to remember that this process is about gathering evidence – ‘the doctor’s questions and the collecting of samples are aimed at establishing the identity of the rapist who attacked you.’
- All information will be written in a J88 form, which details the doctor’s findings for use in court.
- The evidence collected by the doctor is then placed inside the SAEK packaging and handed to the police and, if a suspect is apprehended, it will be sent off to a forensic laboratory for further analysis.
- If not, it will be kept safely until needed. Both the forensic examiner and the investigating officer will sign papers to say that they handed over and received the sealed SAEK. A similar process takes place between the investigating officer and the staff at the forensic laboratory. ‘This is to prove the evidence was not tampered with,’ says Rape Crisis ‘It is called preserving the chain of evidence.’
- Try to have someone you trust with you for support as the examination may take a while.
- The doctor or nurse will get your consent to do a HIV test. This is to find out whether you are HIV negative, so that you can receive ARVs. Make sure you get Anti-Retrovirals (ARVs), contraception and antibiotics for potential STIs.
NB: You may choose to go to your own doctor instead of the clinical forensic practitioner. Your own doctor must complete the J88 form and be prepared to go to court to give evidence. Unfortunately, many doctors and private hospitals are not trained to do this, so you must find out if your doctor is willing and able to do this examination.
What to do if you were drugged
Get a blood and urine test within 24 hours for evidence. Try get drug tested at a private facility if you can. Check with your IO how to go through this correctly in order to preserve the chain of evidence.
The doctor will have to write an affidavit about the test and its results, and be willing to testify in court.
What to do if you fall pregnant
- You can decide to get an abortion from a government hospital or clinic.
- District clinics will perform abortions up to 12 weeks into the pregnancy.
- Major hospitals and some private clinics will perform abortions up to 20 weeks.
- If you decide to continue with the pregnancy but you don’t wish to keep the baby, you can contact an adoption centre to discuss further options.
Follow-up medical appointments
- Don’t forget to go back to the healthcare facility in a few weeks to get the rest of your ARV medication.
- Take the ARVs for 28 days. Like antibiotics, don’t skip days even if they cause side effects like nausea and headaches. Rather ask your doctor for medication to relieve your symptoms.
How to make a difference
If you want to educate yourself and help survivors of assault and sexual violence in their road to recovery, try volunteering, training to become a counsellor or donating groceries, clothes or books to these organisations:
Find more info on how to volunteer:
- TEARS Foundation: Info@tears.co.za
- People Opposed to Women Abuse (POWA): 011 642 4345/6
- Rape Crisis Cape Town: Rapecrisis.org.za
Legal Aid Advice Line (free)
- Call 0800 110 110 (toll-free) or the Please Call Me service through 079 835 7179
- They will also be able to tell you which Legal Aid office is closest to your location
- Call their HQ: 011 642 4335
- Download the free POWA GBV app for Android or iOS to report abuse and find help centres near to you
- Call 0861 322 322
- Dial *134*7355#
- Call 10111
- Visit their FCS Unit