Here’s what the police are supposed to do when someone reports a sexual assault

The experience of a sexual assault is violent and traumatic. The last thing you may want to do is deal with the police, especially with all the personal accounts from people who have been turned away or treated badly by them. But it needs to be done. The Daily Vox spoke to the SAPS’s Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit (FCS) on how you can hold your attacker, and the police, to account.

Firstly, after the sexual assault has happened, it is of utmost importance that the survivor doesn’t clean themselves. Resist the very strong urge because this gets rid of important evidence.

Where do you report a sexual assault?

Go to your nearest police station. If you can’t, call 10111, the national SAPS reporting line, or the police station directly. The police will come to you and escort you to the police station. You can also directly go to a clinic or hospital and report there. The police will take your statement there.

If the police officer that goes to the medical centre doesn’t know how to deal with the traumatised survivor (you can’t or will not speak), the officer must inform FCS which is trained in dealing with sexual assault cases. The officer takes down their own statement and goes back to the police station. Here FCS will take your statement and that of the officer and open a case on your behalf.

If you go directly to the police station, you will be taken to the police station’s trauma centre which has a trauma friendly room. It is separate from the general police station, and designed to give you privacy while a social crime prevention officer takes your statement.

All police officers are given basic sensitivity trained but they don’t have the specialised and extensive training for dealing with traumatised victims that FCS does.

After taking your statement, a standby SAPS staff member will take you to the hospital, or a Thuthuzela centre for a medical examination. You will be examined by doctors that specialise in sexual offences. They examine for signs of sexual assault and collect the vital evidence that will help with your case. The evidence is collected and placed in a file under the case number that was generated when you first reported to the police station. After the examination, the SAPS staff member will go back with you to the crime scene to look for more evidence.

Then you are entitled to have counselling provided at the police station. If the assault was committed on a child who is unable to articulate their trauma, they will taken to the social worker where an assessment will be compiled.

What happens in court?

The case is then assigned a detective. After the case has been opened, the police will prepare you for court. They run you through what will happen in court. This service is provided by Ikhaya Lethemba in Braamfontein. It’s a one-stop centre for female survivors of crime and sexual violence. There are doctors on the ground floor, police on the first floor, social workers, and people preparing victims for court. If you are fearing for your life, there’s also shelter there. You can stay for six to eight months.

You will be represented by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in court. The NPA has the power to institute criminal proceedings on behalf of the state. You also may get legal advice from a private lawyer of your choice. You can also choose to settle outside the court with the help of the NPA. Your assailant will have to pay for their legal fees but they can apply for legal aid.

This is when the judicial system takes up the case. The process can be long and difficult. Captain Dithomo Mmako from the FCS Unit said that judgment doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s important to push ahead with it. “It happens that along the road people say that they’re tired of this court and that they’re at work and stuff like that,” Mmako said. This, he said, leaves the NPA no choice but to drop the case because there are no testifying witnesses. “Despite the number of people who have been arrested initially, we don’t meet the end point because along the way people pull back.”

What do you do if the police don’t help?

Captain Mavela Masondo, Gauteng SAPS spokesperson, said that if you are not happy about the way your case was handled, you can report the officer in question to their station commander. If you don’t get help from the station commander, you can go to the cluster commander who is senior to the station commander. “You can even go up to the national commissioner. All the doors of the South African police are open to public entry.”

You can also lodge a complaint directly with the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID).

The number you can call to make a complaint is 086 026 7787, or call the 24-hour line: 082 442 2000. These complaints are registered and are attended to as a separate case to the original complaint.

Have you had to deal with the police after experiencing a sexual assault? How did they handle it? Tell us your story via DM @thedailyvox or email us

Featured image via Tinker Air Force Base