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Stepping up support

Written by Gabi Khumalo
When Zoe Harris (35) was gang-raped 13 years ago, five months after her marriage, she was not treated with respect or dignity at the police station where she reported the case. And when it happened a second time, she didn't report the incident or tell anyone.

"I didn't have a case to begin with. When I went to the police station, we were made to sit with men, but I just wanted to leave. I was in shock, I wanted to wash myself and forget this ever happened," Harris told Vuk'uzenzele.

"There was no proper documentation. A female police officer interviewed me and asked if I knew the people who raped me. When I told her I didn't, she told me there was no need for a case."

Speak up

The hospital where she tried to get medical care also failed her. The doctor said he couldn't help her without a case number, so she went home and had a bath.

Harris, who only recently decided to tell her story, said she lost hope and tried to commit suicide on three occasions, but her husband, Brendon, saved her.

Many women relate to Harris' experience; they don't talk about their ordeal out of fear and shame; they often blame themselves for causing the rape. Because she did not receive any of the help she expected, Harris decided to speak out and draw attention to the difficulties she encountered as a rape survivor.

Harris now encourages all rape victims to speak up and say enough is enough. "Victims must insist on getting help and regaining their power."

Important steps

Government admits that the rape of girls and women remains a major concern. To reduce violence against women and girls and to prevent other women or survivors of rape going through the kind of difficulty Zoe Harris experienced, government is taking a number of important steps. These include re-introducing the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences units in the police service. The units conduct specialised investigations into sexual offences, domestic violence and child abuse.

The Minister for Women, Children and Persons with Disability Lulu Xingwana says the units, operating in all 176 policing areas, ensure effective access to justice for women and girls.

Thuthuzela centres

Forensic Social Workers in all the units will assist women and girls to present evidence in court. This will improve the chances of putting more sexual offenders behind bars.

Government has also, through the Thuthuzela Care Programme, established 28 Thuthuzela Care Centres, which provide support to victims of sexual violence.

They serve as one-stop centres where victims of sexual violence can open a case and get counselling, as well as medical services including ARVs for prevention of HIV – all under one roof.

Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi last year announced that rape victims would no longer need a case number before getting treatment at health institutions.

Reporting rape – what to expect
  • The police official will take your statement. You need not be alone a friend or family member can be with you while you make your statement, as long as he or she is not a potential witness in your case.
  • If you later feel that your statement is wrong or incomplete, you can make another statement. • You can make your statement in your own language (if it may be translated).
  • You have a right to a copy of your statement. It may sometimes not be possible to get a copy straightaway, but then you will get it later.
  • The police official will give you a case number and you must use this number whenever you want information about your case.
  • Where necessary, the investigating officer will make sure you are examined by a healthcare worker, who will complete a medical report.
  • You must make sure that the investigating officer knows how and where to contact you at all times, including when you move.
  • The investigating officer will let you know: if the suspect is arrested, if the suspect is released on bail, if you need to attend an identity parade, the date of the trial, when you will have to give evidence.
  • The police investigate the case and then hand it over to a state lawyer called a prosecutor. The service is free to you. Both the police official and the prosecutor will be able to give you information about your case.
  • Get a telephone number from the investigating officer so that you know where to get information about your case.

What can we all do to help?

Join community-based victim support initiatives. Be trained as a volunteer. Report rape and help others report rape. Don't protect rapists don't hide them in your home or your community. Tell the police. Bring up boys to respect women – "real" men don't rape.

Remember - A sexual assault is not your fault.
Who can you contact? Contact your local police station or: Police Emergency Number 10 111 Crime Stop 08600 10 111