Sexual abuse falls under a broad spectrum of sexual offences. As defined by SA law, sexual abuse involves ‘the victim of an abuse of power or authority’ under The Sexual Offences Act.
The difference between sexual abuse and sexual assault is how long it lasts. TEARS Foundation defines sexual abuse as ‘the forcing of undesired sexual behaviour by one person upon another. When that force is immediate, of short duration, or infrequent, it is called sexual assault.’ This is why sexual abuse is often used to describe sexual offences against children and domestic violence.
The South African Police Service (SAPS) crime stats revealed that between 2015 and 2016, 49 660 sexual offences were reported. In comparison to 2014, with 51 895 reports of sexual offences, that’s a decrease of 4.31%.
But aren’t less sexual offences being reported a good thing? It could be the SAPS are cracking down on crime, but it’s more likely that year-by-year, survivors of sexual abuse stop reporting because of loss of faith in the system to adequately protect them and seek justice.
Rape Crisis Cape Town says the issue with the SAPS stats is that so many instances of sexual abuse go unreported. That doesn’t mean sexual abuse isn’t happening. Research conducted by the Medical Research Council suggests the reporting rate only accounts for around 1 in 9 sexual offences. Studies have shown that if all sexual offences were reported, the numbers ‘could be as high as 482 000’ cases, according to Rape Crisis.
Sexual abuse goes unreported because of stigma, myths about who gets abused and why, and the lack of resources our justice system has to accurately investigate and convict perpetrators. Most importantly, sexual abuse usually isn’t by a stranger. It’s harder to report someone when the same person sexually abusing you is your partner, family member, or friend.
So where do you begin?
There are many reasons to report sexual abuse. Even if you don’t lay a charge and open an investigation, you can go to the police station and log your abuse in the Occurrences Book. If your abuser is a partner or friend, applying for a protection order can help you escape the relationship.
Speaking about your abuse and seeking help either from the justice system or through counselling can make a huge difference in reclaiming your control. It’s never your fault and it’s never too late to seek the justice you deserve.
Many people find navigating the system impossible and some don’t even know where to start. If you’re in a sexually abusive relationship or know somebody who is, we’ve got the process laid down. #KnowYourRights, and reporting abuse is one of them.
How to report sexual abuse:
1 Talk to the experts
Speak to organisations that are dedicated to helping survivors get out and seek help.
Legal & Tax, and Lifeline, People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA), the TEARS Foundation and the many other NGOs out there can safely support you while you get ready to report abuse.
Speak to lawyers, counsellors and trustworthy friends and family to take action that doesn’t leave your more vulnerable to harm.
2 If your sexual abuser is someone you know, the SAPS says you have the right to:
- Apply for a protection order at the nearest police station or Magistrate’s court; or
- Lay a criminal charge at the police station and apply for a protection order.
What is a protection order?
- An order issued by the court, ordering a person to stop the abuse.
- It not only stops further abuse, but it may cut off the perpetrators access to inflicting more abuse
- An interim protection order can also be issued at any time of the day or night for your protection.
Who can apply for a protection order?
Any victim of domestic violence.
What to expect when you report to the police
- To sign the Occurrence Book at the police station to log your abuse
- To be given a notice in a language you understand
- To be given the option of a translator for you if they don’t understand your language
- To take your statement in private and not in the presence of your abuser or in public
- To be informed that either your abuser will be arrested, their firearms taken if they have any, and your options thereafter
- To serve a protection order against your abuser
- To keep a copy of the protection order
- To log your abuser in the Incident Register at the station as proof you reported your abuse
After these steps, a docket must be opened, registered on the CAS and an affidavit must be made in which the following must be clearly specified:
- The time and date on which the offence was allegedly committed
- The place where the offence was allegedly committed
- The nature of the alleged offence
- The manner in which it was allegedly committed
- The first person to whom the victim has reported the alleged sexual offence before he or she reported it to the police
- Any details regarding the alleged offender(s) that may assist in identifying and finding them
What can I do if an abuser disobeys a protection order?
- Phone the SAPS
- Take a statement
- Provide the police with the warrant of arrest you received together with the protection order (if you have lost it, apply at the court for another one).
- If you are in immediate danger the abuser will be arrested, otherwise the abuser will be given a notice to appear in court the next day.
The SAPS suggests having a ‘crisis plan’ ready to get to safety and seek help ASAP.
The Eight-Step Crisis Plan
1 Identify places where you can use a telephone quickly and easily
2 Always carry a list of emergency numbers with you
3 Make sure that the people you usually visit, have a copy of the protection order and/or warrant of arrest
4 Put some money in a safe place so that you can take a taxi or bus in case of an emergency.
5 Have an extra set of keys for the house or car.
6 If possible, have a set of clothes for yourself (packed in a bag, and keep it in a safe place like your neighbour’s house
7 If you are planning to leave, leave when your partner is not around
8 Make sure that you are in possession of essential documents like IDs, your medical aid card, and your savings/credit card.
NB: Cases of sexual abuse are either investigated by specialist units within the police force called Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences (FCS) Units.
This is the process you’ll be expected to face, from reporting to judgement:
1 Reporting by you, the rape survivor:
You make a statement to the police and lay a charge
2 Medical examination by the doctor:
The doctor conducts a full exam and fills out a J88 form to be used as evidence during the trial
3 Investigation by the police investigating officer (IO):
The police investigate the charge and gather evidence. The police make an arrest based upon the evidence they have collected
4 Bail hearing by National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the IO:
Court hearing in which the magistrate will decide if the accused should be released on bail and settle the bail amount
5 Prosecution by the NPA:
Court proceedings in which the NPA makes a case against the accused is defended by his defence attorney
6 Judgement by the court:
The magistrate’s decision regarding the guilt or innocence of the accused
7 Sentencing by the court (if the accused is found guilty):
If found guilty, the magistrate decides on punishment for the rapist
Legal & Tax: 0860 587 587
Lifeline Durban (but find them across the country!): Crisis Line 031 312 2323
POWA Jo’burg: 011 642 4345 / 6
TEARS Jo’burg: SMS *134*7355#
Rape Crisis Cape Town: Crisis Line 021 447 9762