Rape Centre helps convict rapists

A stone’€™s throw from the main gate of the Hottentots Holland Hospital in Somerset West stands a small, inconspicuous building that provides a sanctuary for rape survivors.

Three years ago, hospital superintendent Dr Elizabeth “Noois” Erasmus assigned two rooms in the building to what is now known as the Helderburg Crisis Centre.

Volunteers have painted the walls a warm pink, the windows are decked with rose-patterned curtains and companies have donated comfortable couches and a bed.

It is in this private, homely spot that rape survivors are treated by doctors and helped by volunteers who are on call 24 hours a day.

“The centre is open to all, from the mayor’€™s daughter to the woman who sleeps in the bush, and everyone gets exactly the same treatment,” says Reinette Evans, who runs the centre on behalf of Rape Crisis.

“Before, there was nothing. If a woman was raped, she would have to go to casualty and wait for hours along with the drunks and all the blood,” says Evans.

Now, if a woman goes to report a rape to the police, they bring her to the centre where she will be met by a volunteer, no matter what time of day or night.

There is a high reporting rate for rape in the area, and thanks to the attention to detail for the collection of forensic evidence, the conviction rate for rapists in the Helderburg area has increased significantly since the centre was set up.

“First there is counselling, where we hear their story and give them coffee and something to eat. We then phone the doctor, who comes over and examines the woman,” says Evans.

Doctors have all been trained to collect forensic evidence according to a medical and forensic examination protocol adopted by the Western Cape Department of Health.

They are all qualified district surgeons and, thanks to a good relationship with officials at the local courts who ensure that their time is not wasted, the doctors are all prepared to testify in court when rapists are caught.

“The police have supplied us with crime kits,” says Evans. “The doctors collect any foreign hair. They have to comb the pubic hair to try to find any foreign hair. All samples, like the swabs, any blood, semen, saliva and cells from under the fingernails are labelled with computerised stickers and put back into the box.”

Outside the box, the woman’€™s details are noted. The doctor’€™s report ‘€“ a J88 form noting any physical injuries ‘€“ is included along with the crime kit as part of the evidence.

“In the past, police would bring the woman to the hospital and sometimes a nurse or doctor would shout out ‘€˜where is the rape victim?’€™ There’€™s nothing more degrading than that,” says Evans. “The women also found it degrading to have their pubic hair combed as they did not understand why it was done.

“We are with them all the time when the doctor examines them, and we explain what is being done. And after the examination, the women are given a hot bubble bath and new clothes.”

The women are also given an HIV test, and encouraged to come back three months later for a follow-up test. They are also given a morning-after pill to prevent pregnancy and three antibiotics in case of sexually transmitted diseases.

Those who can afford the R1 600 for the anti-retroviral AZT (to try to prevent HIV infection) are given it.

Women are encouraged to return to the centre for follow-up counselling and a medical check-up. If their rapists are caught, volunteers also help to prepare them for the court case.

The centre is a community effort. The hospital supplies the doctors, medicines, telephone and electricity. Non-governmental organisations supply the “slave labour” ‘€“ Rape Crisis volunteers deal with adults and Patch volunteers attend to children ‘€“ while the police and organisations such as Round Table fundraise for the centre. Local businesses give donations, while local aunties knit toys for the child survivors and churches collect clothes.

“The women come from all over to the centre, from the elite areas to the squatter camps. The youngest we have seen was 10 months and the oldest was 85 years old,” says Evans.

Evans, one of a core of eight volunteers, says sometimes she is called out at 11pm and only gets home at 2am.

“This kind of voluntary work is not for everyone. But my family is very supportive. The volunteers have debriefing get-togethers once a month. Our Christian faith helps to keep us together and to carry one being positive.”


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