Understanding Sexual Violence

womanIn many parts of the world, especially in Africa, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people face hostility, discrimination and danger. Although the South African constitution clearly condemns discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, many LGBTI people in South Africa continue to face severe discrimination and victimisation on a daily basis.

Rape of lesbian women, often by multiple perpetrators and accompanied by violence, is a particularly apalling form of homophobic victimisation. This is also referred to as “corrective rape”, where men rape lesbians in order to turn them heterosexual and punish them for their homosexuality. This form of rape has been labelled a hate crime, as it is motivated by a hatred of the group that the victim belongs to.

Exact statistics are not available as many rapes are not reported. Reporting a rape and moving through the criminal justice process is in itself a traumatic process and often the rape survivour is further victimised through this ordeal. Stigma around homosexuality and the prejudice that exists in South Africa means that lesbian rape survivors potentially face even greater trauma and secondary victimisation if their sexual orientation becomes known.

Understanding sexual violence

Sexual violence is a general term that includes acts such as sexual assault, sexual harassment, rape, child sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, sexual slavery/enforced prostitution, female genital mutilation and forced marriage.

Sexual assault is any kind of sexual contact that is against a woman’s will or without her consent. This may be because of force, violence, intimidation or where someone is unable to give consent (eg. through being drunk or on drugs, being too young to consent, being asleep or having a disability).

Rape occurs when a person (perpetrator) intentionally puts any body part or object (such as a bottle or a dildo) into another person’s anus or vagina, or genital organs into the mouth of another person without consent. Rape is not about relieving sexual desire, it is about gaining power and control over another person. A rapist gets satisfaction by humiliating and controlling the victim and uses sex as the tool to do this.

Consequences of sexual violence

Sexual violence potentially results in a multitude of health-related issues such as:

  • HIV infection
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Unwanted pregnancy
  • Genital injuries
  • Pelvic fistulae and chronic pelvic pain
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder and Rape Trauma Syndrome
  • Depression and suicide
  • Social exclusion and rejection in some communities

In order to prevent many of these complications, medical treatment and psychological support is needed.

What to do if you are raped

  • Get to a safe place

  • Tell the first person you see and who you feel you can trust with what happened to you. If you were drunk or stoned at the time of rape, don’t let it stop you from reporting the assault. Being intoxicated is not a crime but rape is.
  • Do not wash yourself and keep your old clothes on. There may be hair or blood or semen on your body or clothes that can be used as evidence of the rape by the police.
  • Report the crime at the nearest police station. Do this as soon as you can or at least within three days so that there is a stronger chance of finding proof of the attack and of catching the suspected rapist.
    • It is often useful to call a friend or family member to go with you and support you to do this

    • Keep the name and contact number of the police officer in charge of your case and your police case number. You are also entitled to a copy of the statement you make to the police
  • If you are injured go directly to the hospital, community health centre or doctor. The rape will be reported to the nearest police station. A doctor will then examine you and samples of blood, hair or semen will be collected for medical evidence of the crime. This is called a forensic examination.
  • The doctor will do the following:
    1. Tend to all your injuries

    2. Provide the Morning After Pill to prevent you from falling pregnant. This needs to be taken within 72 hours
    3. Provide post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to prevent HIV infection, as well as an HIV test. You will need to continue the treatment for 4 weeks and follow-up visits to the doctor are required to monitor for side-effects and for follow-up HIV tests
    4. Antibiotics will be provided to prevent the development of sexually transmitted bacterial infections
  • Make sure you receive the above treatment from the doctor even if you were not injured or do not want to report the crime to the police.
  • You should be referred to a local counselling service. If this does not happen, ask for pamphlets or booklets on rape and the contact number of a local counselling service to give you further support and advice about the police matter, court case and any other consequences of the rape on your life.