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Simon Dippenaar
Admitted Attorney of the High Court of South Africa.
B.Bus.Sci (UCT), LLB (UCT), PDLP (UCT)
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How to report abuse – you don’t have to go on record before you are ready

But you can still document the evidence to use later

Report abuse to your doctor and you will have evidence when you are ready to open a case.

If you have suffered sexual abuse, intimate partner violence, or any other type of physical abuse, reporting it can be as traumatic as the experience itself. As the Netflix drama/documentary “Unbelievable” shows, women are not always believed when reporting rape to the authorities. It takes a great deal of courage to discuss events that are extremely intimate and brutal with a total stranger. According to Wikipedia, only one in nine rapes in South Africa is reported. However, this is a meaningless statistic because it is impossible to know how many rapes – or any other crime for that matter – are NOT reported. It is an estimation, but it suggests that many rapes and sexual assaults go unreported, which means that the perpetrators are never charged with the offence, let alone convicted.

If you’re not ready to go to the police, you can still “report” the abuse

There’s a piece of information making the rounds on social media, and we think it is important enough to repeat here. We’ve added some key points. The trouble with failing to report a rape or other assault at the time is that evidence is lost. And without evidence, a report at a later date will have very little chance of leading to a prosecution. However, you can visit your doctor and have the incident documented on your medical records in complete confidence. Your doctor will treat your injuries, take photos, and record the incident in your file. When you are ready, at any time in the future, you can access your file as evidence.

It’s also strongly advisable to seek medical attention for your own wellbeing. The standard of care post-assault includes post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV (known as “PEP” – a course of antiretrovirals that prevent you contracting HIV if you have been exposed; you must start PEP within 72 hours and preferably 24); antibiotics (to treat any sexual transmitted infections) and emergency contraception. The doctor will also examine you and treat any tissue damage. Contrary to what some people may tell you, you DO NOT have to report a rape to the police to be able to access PEP.

Your doctor may encourage you to go to the police, but she will not report the incident for you. You are safe from intervention until you are ready. Many women are scared that if they report abuse to anyone before they feel ready to do anything about it they will be “shopped” to the authorities. This is particularly true when the woman has children. But this is not the case. Your doctor will, however, ensure you have all the evidence you need to bring the case in your own time.

You can also talk to your lawyer or a friend

You can also ask an attorney to log your details – date, time, name of perpetrator, etc. They can photograph any bruising or cuts you may have and date stamp the photos. We at Cape Town Divorce Attorneys will provide this service on a pro bono basis and open a file for you to access when you are ready. If you prefer, a close friend can save photos and any other evidence, such as threatening text or voice messages from the perpetrator.

However, we would still advise you to seek medical attention, as a lawyer or friend cannot treat your injuries or provide you with PEP.

It’s your right to choose, and we will support you

While no one should be allowed to get away with abusive behaviour or rape, it is your choice how and when you report it. We encourage you to do so, but will never try to persuade you to open a case before you are ready. If you take the steps outlined in this article you will have the evidence you need when you feel strong enough to file your report. And we will support you fully in that process. We can also help you get a protection order against your abuser, to keep you and your children (if appropriate) safe in future.  Contact Simon on 086 099 5146 or email sdippenaar@sdlaw.co.za to discuss your case in complete confidence.

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Disclaimer

The information on this website is provided to assist the reader with a general understanding of the law. While we believe the information to be factually accurate, and have taken care in our preparation of these pages, these articles cannot and do not take individual circumstances into account and are not a substitute for personal legal advice. If you have a legal matter that concerns you, please consult a qualified attorney. Simon Dippenaar & Associates takes no responsibility for any action you may take as a result of reading the information contained herein (or the consequences thereof), in the absence of professional legal advice.