The 72 hours following a rape are pivotal for a survivor. Regardless of whether a survivor intends to report the rape or not, doctor’s advice is that they need to get medical attention within three (3) days. A medical exam is vital to ensure that sexually-transmitted illnesses, pregnancy and physical (DNA) evidence can be attended to. What then can we advise as a plan of action for any survivor out there? Going directly to a medical facility like a Thuthuzela Care Centre.
Why is the advice not to just go to the police and open a case? There are a few reasons. First and foremost, rape survivors have the right to free medical attention without having to report the case. Secondly, following a medical exam at a hospital or medical facility the physical evidence from the rape can be preserved and a case can be opened that way, from the medical facility. What does this mean? A rape survivor never has to go to a police station in order to report the rape. The physical evidence found in the medical exam becomes the DNA evidence that can form as the basis for a strong case.
Why the medical exam is so important
Even though it is not necessary to report the case immediately, or ever, you might still want to preserve the physical evidence. Physical evidence from rape (saliva, semen, blood) can be found both on your body and your clothes. If you cannot get to a medical facility (or police station) immediately your clothes should be preserved by wrapping them in newspaper NOT a plastic bag, so that they can be brought along with you for examination.
Because survivors of sexual violence are victims of a crime, medical evidence can be used in court to make a stronger case against the rapist or perpetrator. If you do want to report the case to the police, there are some risks that need to be kept in mind when seeking medical attention and treatment:
- You can only get a rape kit done within 72 hours after the rape so that DNA evidence can be collected. If you go later than that they will not be able to collect evidence such as saliva, semen or blood from the rapist on your body.
- If you wash or change your clothing before going to the hospital you might leave behind valuable evidence of the rape. If you remove your clothes but take them with you and put them in a plastic bag the evidence will be lost too. It is best to go in the clothes you were wearing and not to wash, but if you have removed your clothes take them with you in a cloth or paper bag.
As a survivor of sexual violence, deciding what to do about what has happened to you can be difficult. You may be in shock or experiencing a rollercoaster of troubling emotions. The most important thing to remember is that the sooner that you can get to your nearest Thuthuzela Care Centre, specialist hospital or clinic or police station the better, because:
- The rapist has less chance to escape
- You may be able to remember more about the rape immediately afterwards
- The physical (DNA) evidence that links the rapist to the crime will still be on your body – this evidence can be lost within 72 hours (three days)
The next steps of recovery
Another important reason for going to a medical facility like a Thuthuzela Care Centre as soon as possible is that you will be referred to a counselling service like the one at Rape Crisis. It is imperative that a survivor’s physical health is attended to first, and in the event of reporting that physical evidence is taken, but that is not where a survivor’s care needs stop. The mental and emotional ramifications of the trauma of sexual violence can be damaging and long-lasting. Prioritising your road to emotional recovery is important, and that is not a journey that you have to walk alone. Rape Crisis’ core mission is ensuring that no survivor feels alienated as they walk their road to holistic recovery.
Our free counselling service is here to make sure that you feel seen, heard and supported. No matter what you decide, you are not alone. If you can’t speak to anyone, speak to us.
24hr Helpline: 021 447 9762
Whatsapp line: 083 222 5164