Violence against women is one of the most pressing public health problems in South Africa, with rape being more common than tuberculosis, according to Professor Lynette Denny, senior specialist at Groote Schuur Hospital and University of Cape Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology.
The massive gap between rape, and the arrest and conviction of rapists had motivated Denny and others in the Western Cape to introduce a rape protocol in 1998.
Describing this as “an idiot-proof guide” for medical practitioners dealing with rape survivors, Denny said the aim was to ensure improved clinical care and better forensic evidence.
Presenting an analysis of 460 rape cases in the Western Cape to the Reproductive Health Priorities Conference, Denny said 58% of cases involved women under the age of 24.
Stressing that the sample, drawn from survivors attended to at Groote Schuur and JG Jooste hospitals, was not representative of all rapes in the province, Denny said important lessons could be learnt nonetheless.
About 58% of rapists were known to their victims, but this figure was likely to be higher in the general population as such rapes were less likely to be reported, said Denny.
While most rapes occurred in the evening and night, a disproportionate number of teenagers were raped in the afternoon. “This is no doubt when their mothers are at work,” she added.
In addition, younger women were more likely to be raped in rapists’ homes whereas older women were more likely to be raped by intruders in their own homes.
Some 35% of rapes took place in the rapists’ home, where the women had either been visiting or had been abducted.
A further 27% of women were raped in open spaces, mostly near bus and taxi ranks usually while they were going to or returning from work.
“It is disgraceful that women get raped while they are trying to go to work,” said Denny. “We can certainly take this information to government and try to ensure that they make these areas safer.”
One in four rapes involved more than one attacker, and in almost half the cases women had been subdued by a weapon, usually a knife or gun.
“This is very important as these women were less likely to be physically injured,” said Denny, and this sometimes made it difficult for the women to convince police that they had been raped.
Denny concluded by saying that she believed that the best way to address rape was through the establishment of multi-purpose rape centres that could provide comprehensive medical attention and were staffed by people trained to gather forensic evidence.
“Without forensic evidence, it is his word against hers and that usually means she will lose the case,” concluded Denny. ‘ Health-e News Service.