If you have been raped or sexually assaulted, you can report this to the police. It is your choice whether to report, but if you do not report then your case will not be investigated or prosecuted. Police are not allowed to refuse to investigate your case if you report it. However, if there is too little evidence after an investigation by the police, a prosecutor may decide not to prosecute your case.
There is no time limit for reporting a rape case, while other sexual offences have a 20-year time limit. However, if you do not report quite soon after the rape happened then physical evidence may be lost and any witnesses may be difficult to find, which will make successful prosecution more difficult. Also, when you report, the police will take you to hospital where you will be given medication to prevent HIV/Aids. It is important to take this medication as soon as possible after being raped.
If you are a child, or reporting on behalf of a child, the case is dealt with in a different manner.
Call the Police
You can report rape by going to the closest police station. You can also report rape by telephoning the closest police station. If you report by phone, the police will send a police van to fetch you. However, because the police van may not be available immediately, you may have to wait a long time to be fetched. If you are badly hurt, you should call an ambulance directly or the emergency number instead.
Usually, you are supposed to report rape at the police station closest to where the rape happened (which might be far away from where you live). However, if you have gone to another police station, the police are not allowed to send you away. They must do the first steps of the investigation, including opening a case docket and the medical examination, and give the case to the correct police station afterwards.
At the police station, you can ask to speak to a woman police official. However, a woman may not always be available. You do not have to give all the details of what happened in the charge office when reporting the rape. After you have said that you want to report a rape, you should be taken to a private space such as an office, or to the trauma room, which is a more comfortable room that often also has trained volunteers to help you. Most police stations have trauma rooms that are supposed to be open all the time, even on weekends and at night.
Making a Statement
You need only give a brief statement of what happened and have the rape recorded in the occurrence book (a book in which all crimes are recorded) at the police station, before being taken to have a medical examination. You should try to give a detailed description of the rapist and where you last saw him immediately so that the police can try to arrest him as soon as possible.
You only need to give a detailed statement of what happened during the rape after the medical examination, usually a day or so later, when you have had some time. The detailed statement will be given to a detective (investigating officer) who will be the only police person to know about the details of the case.
The Medical Examination
A state doctor (the District Surgeon) will do the medical examination, usually at a hospital. You can get a private doctor to do the examination, but they are often not trained in collecting forensic evidence and may not have the time to go to court. The doctor must also give you medication to prevent HIV/Aids. Because the aim of the medical examination is to collect forensic evidence, you should not wash before the medical examination, as this may wash away evidence. You should also bring the clothes you were wearing at the time of the rape so that they can also be examined for evidence.
If the police arrest a suspect, they may need to hold an identity parade where you will have to point out the rapist if he is one of the people in the identity parade. If the police station has a two-way mirror, then this will be used for the identity parade. You do not need to touch the suspect and you should refuse to do so if anyone asks you to.
When you give your statement, you should give as much detail as possible about what happened, especially on whether the rapist threatened you and whether he was violent. Make sure the police know if you think he knows where you live and if you are afraid he might intimidate you. This is important information that will help the court decide whether he should be granted bail or not, once he is arrested.
What if the Suspect Gets Bail?
If the rapist is granted bail, the police must inform you, including the conditions of his bail. One of the conditions of bail is always that he will not be allowed to talk to you or threaten you in any way. If he does talk to you or if he breaks any of the other conditions, you must contact the detective dealing with your case immediately and make a statement about this.
Unfortunately, it may take a very long time for your case to go to court for trial, and if the police cannot find enough evidence, the prosecutor may decide not to prosecute. If you have any complaints about how the police have dealt with your case, you should lodge a complaint. You can get help from any of the organisations that help survivors of sexual violence with preparing for the trial and with any other problems you may be experiencing.
On the day of trial, try to arrange with the prosecutor beforehand that you will arrive early and have a separate place to sit while waiting for the trial to start, as it is common for the rapist and his supporters to make comments about you within earshot and try to intimidate you in other ways. Some courts have separate witness waiting rooms that you can use instead of waiting in the corridor with the rapist and his supporters. If the court does not have a witness waiting room, ask the prosecutor to make another office available for you.
Organisations that work with woman and child survivors of (sexual) violence in the Western Cape.
These facility categories:
- Treatment for Sexual Abuse/Rape (Service)