FOCUS ON: Rape – What To Do If You Have Been Raped

The following excerpt has been taken from “The Road to Recovery: You & Rape” – created and distributed by the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust. You can download the complete booklet in English, Afrikaans or isiXhosa, from their website:

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Straight after the rape 

The moments right after a rape are very important from the point of view of the law and from the point of view of the rape survivor’s recovery from rape. Deciding what to do about what has just happened can be extremely difficult if you are in shock or feeling bad.

From the point of view of the law, the sooner you can get to a police station or hospital the better, because:

  • the criminal has less chance to escape
  • you may be able to remember more about the rape right afterwards
  • there is physical evidence on your body that links the rapist to the crime, and this evidence can get lost quickly.

From the point of view of your recovery, there are medicines you need to take (to prevent pregnancy or disease) that only work within 72 hours (three days) after the event. Getting support immediately after the rape from someone that can help you, also helps you to recovery. This support could be from someone close to you or from a professional service provider such as nurse, a doctor or a trained rape counsellor. This helps you to recover, because if you are forced to make tough decisions in a hurry, while you are feeling shocked and abused, it helps to get good information, practical help and strong emotional support. The information given by these professional people can help you, or someone close to you, to make these choices. They will also tell you how much time you have to make these choices.

Steps to take after rape 

  • Go to a safe place as soon as possible.
  • Tell the first person you see and trust about what has happened. The first person you tell about the rape will sometimes be asked to go to court to support your story – this person is called the first contact witness. If this person is a stranger, write down or try and remember her or his name, telephone number and address. This is important if you decide to report the rape, as the police will need to find that person and talk to her or him.
  • If you are badly hurt, go straight to a hospital or a doctor. The police can be called to the hospital if you want to report what has happened to you. The police can also take you to a hospital if you are hurt, or they can summon an ambulance.
  • If you are not HIV positive and you fear that you have been exposed to HIV, you need to receive medical attention within 72 hours (three days) of exposure. Some studies show that you are better protected if you received medicine to prevent HIV infection within 6 to 8 hours of exposure, so the sooner you receive medical attention, the better. If you are HIV negative, the hospital or clinic will give you antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) to prevent HIV infection. The ARVs form  part of a group of medicines called post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). PEP consists of ARVs, emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy and antibiotics to prevent certain other diseases.
  • Decide whether you want to report the rape to the police. You may not feel like making this decision so soon after being raped. However, the sooner a doctor examines you, the more likely she or he is to find strong proof on your body or on your clothes, such as blood or semen from the person who raped you. Bruises and cuts will stay on your body for a while, but semen, hair, saliva and blood can be lost quickly. If you were drunk at the time of the rape, don’t let this stop you from reporting the matter to the police or from getting medical treatment. Being drunk is not a crime, rape is. Remember that the law says that you can’t give consent while you’re very drunk.

Women often find it difficult to go to the police. men may find it even more difficult. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and intersex people often find it almost impossible to face going to the police. Elderly people and disabled people who feel vulnerable at the best of times, may struggle to face this ordeal and might need additional support. The decision to make a report to the police or not can affect you in many ways and you should consider it carefully.

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Reporting rape

When reporting rape to the police you have a choice of doing so either with or without laying charges.

For information on:

  • Reporting rape to the police
  • Receiving medical attention
  • Criminal justice procedures

please visit the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust website at: – alternatively download “The Road to Recovery: You & Rape” booklet from


Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust. (2011). What to do if someone has raped you. In The Road to Recovery: You and Rape (pp. 7 – 8). [Online available from: [Accessed: 21 July 2015].


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