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Reporting Abuse? These Are Your Rights with the Police

Demanding appropriate treatment isn’t being difficult, it’s your right

According to law, any and every victim ‘has the right to confidentiality and privacy’, says Lizelle Erasmus, an attorney at Legal Aid Advice Line. ‘The police must comply with this.’

Here, the rights you have so you can ensure you can ask for, and receive, the treatment you deserve from the police and court of law – or report it if you don’t.

1 You may give your statement in private

‘When you go to a police station to make a report, you can request to make the statement in private,’ explains Thandiswa Maholwana, also a Legal Aid Advice Line attorney. ‘Alternatively, you can request the police officer escorts you to a trauma centre, and you can be assisted there.’

When you head to a station to make a report, let the first officer who attends to you know that you wish to report something of a sexual or abusive nature, and that you wish to do so in private. You may also ask if there is a female officer on duty who can assist you. Which leads us too…

2 You can request a different officer

Unhappy with the officer serving you, or would you prefer to be attended to by a female officer? ‘You can request that another police officer assists you,’ says Maholwana. If the police officer refuses, ‘call the station commander for assistance’. You are not being difficult, you are asking for sensitive and helpful care.

3 Your confidentiality must be maintained

The bottom line is that the law promises anyone who’s been a victim of crime confidentiality and privacy. ‘The National Policy Guidelines for Victims of Sexual Offences states that police, when having their first consultation with you, must inform you of the confidentiality of your information and your privacy,’ confirms Erasmus.

Importantly: ‘It must be noted that you will likely have to testify against your perpetrator,’ adds Erasmus. However, ‘The law makes provision for applications to be made to keep your identity and/or information confidential. The law also provides that where it is a sexual offence, other persons can be asked to leave the court and only necessary personnel may remain in court.’

This leads us to…

4 If your case goes to court, you can request measures so you don’t have to deal with your abuser IRL

‘As a victim, you lay a complaint at a police station,’ says Maholwana. This includes reporting an incident (or several incidents) of abuse and making a statement, explaining what happened. ‘Then, the investigative officer investigates the matter and hands the docket to the public prosecutor at court.’

At this point, there is provision for you to avoid having to see or confront your attacker if criminal proceedings reach court. ‘In a case involving a charge of a sexual offence, the court may, at the request of the victim, or, if the victim is a minor at the request of his or her parent or guardian, order an in-camera hearing. In-camera hearing means that the witness testifies through a video link – the witness will be in a separate room and will be able to hear the questions asked in court. When answered, the court room will hear the answers. The witness will still be cross-examined, so they will have to answer any questions asked. But they will not have to be in the presence of the accused person when they testify,’ explains Maholwana.

5 It’s best to use your local police station – but you can go elsewhere if you need to

Worried you’ll be recognised at your local station, or do officers working at your local station know your abuser? You can report abuse at another station – but you will need to explain why you’re doing this, says Erasmus. ‘It’s best to report a matter at the police station nearest to where the incident occurred. But your safety is always paramount, so if you’re not comfortable, you are entitled to report abuse at any other station. At that police station, you will be asked to explain why you do not want to use your closest station.’

Be honest and don’t apologise: if you feel safer reporting elsewhere, do so. You have every right to this.

6 You can report inappropriate police behaviour or handling of your case

If you aren’t getting the service, sensitivity or confidentiality you need and deserve, report it.

‘First, report it to the station commander of that police station,’ advises Lindsay Henson, executive director of Lawyers Against Abuse. Insist on speaking to them, no matter what your current officer may say.

Still not happy? ‘Lay a formal report to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), the oversight body for the police,’ adds Henson.

Get help

Lawyers Against Abuse

Legal Aid Advice Line (free)

  • Call 0800 110 110 (toll-free) or the Please Call Me service through 079 835 7179
  • Legal-aid.co.za
  • They will also be able to tell you which Legal Aid office is closest to your location

POWA

  • 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

LifeLine

  • Call 0861 322 322

TEARS Foundation

  • Dial *134*7355#

Police

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