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Six steps to take if you have been raped

As Women’s Month winds to an end, Rape Crisis gives advice for rape survivors.

Forensic doctor

The one thing you may want to do is wash but this may washing away physical evidence of the rape that doctors will collect in order to help prosecute perpetrators

Claire* joined a study group in her second year at university. One afternoon, a guy from the group offered to walk her home and she invited him in for a cup of coffee. As they chatted, he moved a little too close to her but she thought it would be rude to say anything. Then suddenly he took her coffee cup out of her hand and dragged her from her kitchen into the lounge, where he raped her on the floor.

She struggled and shouted at him to stop but he ignored her. He later told her that she had invited him in, which meant she wanted sex and so what was she complaining about? After he left, Claire felt stunned, dazed and numb. She had no idea what to do next.

Like Claire, many rape survivors are too shocked to act in the immediate moments after a rape. But there are practical steps you can take immediately after someone rapes you to keep yourself safe and minimise both short and long term health risks and strengthen your chances of bringing the rapist to justice.

  1. Get to a safe place.

    The first thing you should do if you are in any immediate danger is to get yourself to a safe place.

  1. Tell some what has happened.

    Once you are out of danger, tell the first person you see what has happened or contact someone you know and trust and tell them the whole story while it is fresh in your mind. Although this can be difficult, it is very important because this person can help with the police investigation and later support your story in court. They are known as the first contact witness.

  1. Preserve evidence of the rape.

    The one thing you may want to do is wash. If you do, you run the risk of washing away all physical evidence of the rape so do not bath, shower or wash your clothes. Doing this would get rid of blood, semen, saliva or hair that could be used as evidence of the rape. If you are injured, go straight to your nearest hospital, community health centre or doctor.

  1. Decide whether you want to report the rape.

    You do not have to decide immediately whether to report the rape to the police but the sooner a doctor examines you, the more likely they are to find physical evidence that they can link to the rapist. If you decide to report the rape to the police, then you should go to your nearest police station where the officers must take your statement. The police will take you to a health centre where you will receive medical attention and undergo a forensic examination. If you do not report the rape, you can go directly to a health centre to get these services.

  1. Get medicine to prevent unwanted pregnancies, HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

    After the forensic examination, the doctor will give you the morning-after pill to prevent pregnancy and antibiotics to prevent possible STIs) You will also be given an HIV test and if it is negative you will be given antiretroviral treatment for 28 days to prevent contracting HIV. This is called post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).

  1. Get support to help you to recover.

    You can get the support you need further down the line by asking for pamphlets or booklets on rape, and the number of a local counselling service that can give you support and advice on the police report, an eventual court case, and your own physical and emotional wellbeing. If you do fall pregnant or contract an STI it is important to seek follow up medical care and counselling.

Claire called the Rape Crisis helpline later the same afternoon that she was raped and got advice about what to do. As a result, she decided to report the rape to the police. A friend who knew what had happened went with her.

You have the right to access all of these services that will protect you from the health risks associated with rape and to complain if any of these services do not meet your needs.

*Identity withheld upon request

This story was developed in partnership with Health-e News by Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust intern Emily Whiteside and director Kathleen Dey. Rape Crisis offers free services including face-to-face counselling, a 24-hour helpline and support through court cases and the criminal justice system. You can visit their website or call their 24-hour crisis line on 021 447 9762.

An edited version of this story was published on Health24.com.

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