When Steven* took his girlfriend Sue to a Johannesburg police station after being raped at a party this month, he expected the police to help them. Instead, the police turned them away. He was told to “take her home” until she had “calmed down”.

The experience of these Johannesburg students is not unusual, according to People Opposing Women Abuse’s (POWA). The organisation’s legal adviser, Priscilla Matsapola, says it is a “common occurrence” for rape victims to struggle to get police to open a case against their rapists.

“When victims try to open a case they aren’t given a J-88, they aren’t advised on taking PEPs [anti-retrovirals].” A J-88 form details the victim’s injuries and is needed for collecting forensic evidence. The form must be filled out by a doctor.

Matsapola said the only way to combat this was for victims to insist on their rights and demand to open a docket, even if that meant lodging a complaint against the officer who refused to do so.

Going to a doctor to fill out a J-88 form is a vital part of the process, according to government guidelines. The form guides the doctor through a detailed examination of all injuries, and a collection of any forensic evidence such as sperm or skin cells from under the victim’s finger nails.

This forensic evidence needs to be collected a quickly as possible after the rape, as this evidence is lost through normal human movement. It is important for trying to prosecute a rapist. If police officers do not advise victims to take the J-88 form, any legal action that follows could suffer greatly.

Doctors are legally obliged to provide free anti-retrovirals, known as PEPs (post-exposure prophylaxis), which greatly reduces the chances if HIV transmission. Police officers often fail to mention PEPs, according to the Treatment Action Campaign website. PEPs lose their effectiveness after 72 hours, leaving the victim vulnerable to contracting HIV AIDS if their rapist was HIV positive.

This is the correct procedure when a rape has occurred: the victim opens a docket and is allowed to ask that a female officer take a statement. The statement does not need to give the details of the rape, but must give as many details of the rapist as possible so that they police can begin their search for him.

After this, the victim must go to a hospital for a medical examination, during which the doctor will fill in the J-88 form, collect evidence like skin cells, hair or sperm of the attacker, and administer PEPs.

It is important to note that police are not allowed to write on the J-88 form, even though they are obliged to provide it to the victim to take with her to hospital.

Fighting with the police is a traumatic experience after a woman has come to them for help. “I encourage the girls to enforce their rights. They must lodge a complaint against the officer and demand to open a docket. If it is taking too long, go to a doctor first. You can always open the docket at a later stage”, says Matsapola.

*False names have been used to protect the victim.

Published in Vuvuzela 17th edition, 27 July 2012