Tag Archives: South Africa

FOCUS ON: Rape – Reactions to Rape

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: rapecrisis.org.za


Each person copes with trauma in a different way, depending on her or his circumstances. How long your journey to recovery takes will depend on many things, including your situation and how supportive the people around you are. If you are worried that negative feelings are lasting too long or becoming overwhelming, you might consider getting help. It’s important to remember that there are people who can help you, such as a rape counsellor, social worker, psychologist, clinic sister or even a family member or a friend you can trust.

Partners, parents or friends and family members may not know how to respond to you, and may even share some of your feelings about the rape. They can also choose to go for counselling so that they can learn to understand their own feelings and how to offer you more support.

On the other hand, people around you might need to distance themselves from what happened to you because, although it could happen to them too, they don’t want to believed that. Some people might not be supportive, because they themselves live with men who rape, or because It has happened to them and they don’t want you to remind them of their own painful experiences. The truth is that not everyone around you will be supportive, and you may feel alone in dealing with some things. However, you don’t have to be alone on your journey along the road to recovery – there are signposts that can help you on your way.

Phases of Recovery

The first signpost along the road to recovery is realising that there is a pattern to how most people progress or move through the trauma of rape. However these phases don’t follow on neatly from one to another; you may move backwards and forwards through the phases as you work through the trauma.

There is no single way to recover; your journey is unique. With good support, people can recover from rape, but many people choose not to get support and not to tell anyone about what happened. The following phases can also be seen in people who do not go for counselling:

Acute Phase

Immediately after the rape, most survivors feel shock, dismay, fear, panic and anger. Some survivors show this by being numb or dazed, others by being openly upset. You would probably react this way in the first few hours, days and weeks after the rape, but usually not longer than two weeks afterwards. This is the first phase of the crisis. It is called the acute phase because it is so intense. Many survivors are unable to talk about the rape. You might have nightmares and feel shocked, guilty, afraid, ashamed, powerless, angry, depressed and afraid of being touched. These feelings can be overwhelming.

Outward Adjustment Phase

In this phase, most survivors try to carry on with their lives as normal. To anyone looking at you from the outside, you may seem to be coping. You might even feel this way yourself. You need to go through this phase to reassure yourself that you can cope. During this phase, you test your ability to survive the experience. You may use all kinds of different ways of coping, such as pretending the rape didn’t happen or pushing thoughts and feelings away.

In this phase, rape survivors are usually not open to coming for counselling. You tend to feel a lot less troubled than during the acute phase, but you may not want to speak about the rape very much. This can be difficult for those close to you who wish to be helpful and think they can do that by getting you to talk. They may feel frustrated if you don’t want to talk or they may put pressure on you to behave differently. You might find that during this phase what you really need is for people to let you be.

Integration Phase

During the integration phase, the part of you that felt overwhelmed by intense emotions during the acute phase and the part of you that felt almost nothing during the outward adjustment phase come together. The intense feelings start to come back, but less overwhelming than before. You may begin to feel depressed or anxious and start thinking about the rape when you least expect to. This is the time when you might wish to talk a bit more about what happened. You might start having nightmares again and feel shocked, guilty, afraid, ashamed, powerless, angry, depressed and afraid of being touched or of being alone. You may well find that you cannot function the way you used to. You may also start to think about the rapist more.

Many survivors in this phase believe their feelings mean they have serious emotional problems or are going mad. This is a good time to go for counselling because it can give you support and comfort, with respect for what you are going through. You can also get information about what you are going through in the form of psycho-education. Psycho-education helps you and people close to you understand and deal with the feelings you have. Also, your counsellor will help you find your own strengths, resources and coping skills, so that you learn to be a part of your own recovery and contribute to your health and wellness on a long-term basis. The better the knowledge you have about what you’re going through, the better you can live with it and share it.

Renewal Phase

You begin to make sense of the trauma and to feel safer in the world. During this phase your symptoms will ease off or disappear. The memory of the rape will not have the same effect on you. You may start to feel good about life again. You may still feel emotional at times, but overall you will feel more in control and able to move forward.

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Common Feelings or Reactions to Rape

During the first two phases, many people report feeling or experiencing:

  • Shock
  • Guilt
  • Powerlessness and a loss of control
  • Fear
  • Shame
  • An inability to speak about the rape
  • Nightmares
  • A fear of touching
  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Grief about loss
  • The desire to use drugs and alcohol
  • The desire to hurt themselves, for example by cutting themselves
  • Suicidal thoughts or feelings

For information on common feelings and reactions to rape please visit the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust website at: http://rapecrisis.org.za/ – alternatively download “The Road to Recovery: You & Rape” booklet from http://rapecrisis.org.za/rape-in-south-africa/you-rape-booklet/


Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust. (2011). Reactions to Rape. In The Road to Recovery: You and Rape (pp. 41 – 51). [Online available from: http://rapecrisis.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/you-and-rape-booklet-english.pdf [Accessed: 21 July 2015].

Need Help?

Please refer to the Need Help? page on the menu bar, select either Student Support Referral List OR Student Counselling for more information on where to access help. 

FOCUS ON: Rape – What is Rape?

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: rapecrisis.org.za


Rape is a violent crime in which a person uses sexual acts to intentionally harm and hurt another. We cannot talk about rape in polite terms or hide the truth about it. Rape is an abuse of power and an abuse of sex.

It is important for rape survivors to understand the exact meaning of the laws on rape, for two reasons. Firstly, a rape survivor needs enough information about the law to know whether or not her case has a chance of succeeding or not. Otherwise she might be very disappointed if the rapist is not found guilty and is allowed to go free without being punished. Secondly, she needs to know exactly what is expected of her in order to prove that the rapist is guilty in the eyes of the law. There are a lot of different things that she needs to do in order to help the law do its job, and these things are not easy, so the more she understands about them the better. This information allows rape survivors to make choices, and making choices can be very empowering for someone who is feeling like a victim.

The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act (Act 32 of 2007) has been in effect in South Africa since 16 December 2007. This law states that it is a crime to intentionally commit a sexual act with another person without that person’s consent. The formal definition of rape that is presently used by our legal system is: Any person who unlawfully and intentionally commits an act of sexual penetration with a complainant, without the consent of the complainant, is guilty of the offence of rape. The complainant in this sentence is the rape survivor, meaning the person who complains to the criminal justice system about a crime. In court, the rapist’s lawyer will try to prove the accused is innocent of the crime. To do this, the lawyer has to either prove that the survivor consented to having sex with the rapist or that he never penetrated any part of her body sexually.

To look at this legal definition more carefully and put it into words that are easier to understand, we need ot explain what the law means by the word “consent” and the word “penetrate”.


According to the law, even if you indicated consent to the rapist in some way, for example by saying “yes” or by not resisting, there is no consent or permission granted to a sexual act:

  • if you are forced into an act by violence or the threat of violence to yourself, to a loved one or to your property
  • if you are drunk, drugged, asleep or unconscious. This means that if you’ve been drinking heavily or taking drugs, you are not able to give consent to sex
  • If you are younger than 12 years old or mentally challenged
  • if you are forced into consent by your boss or your teacher, for example if you are led to think that refusing sex will affect your position at work or at your learning institute
  • if a professional or someone in authority has deceived you and made you believe that you need to submit to a sexual act for your physical, emotional or spiritual health.


According to the law, this could be any act which causes penetration to any extent by:

  • the genital organs of one person passing into or through the genital organs, anus or mouth of another person
  • any other part of the body of one person or any object passing into or through the genital organs or anus of another person.

There are some rapists who bring animals into the sexual acts they commit. The legal definition also includes sexual acts with or involving animals.

Other sexual crimes

The law also provides for a range of sexual crimes that do not fit the definition of rape or that include special circumstances, such as the involvement of a child. These sexual crimes include the following:

  • Statutory rape: statutory rape means an act that is regarded as rape by law even if the persons concerned do not regard it as such. This occurs when an adult commits an act of penetration with a child between the ages of 12 and 16, whether or not the child consents. Many paedophiles believe that it is not a crime to have sex with a child. A child of 12 or younger is considered too young to be able to give consent at all, and the rapist or paedophile will automatically be prosecuted. If both people involved in the act of penetration are over the age of 12 but under the age of 16 and both consented, it is still a crime in the eyes of the law, but the authorities may decide not to go ahead and prosecute. A person can only legally consent to sex from the age of 16 onwards.
  • Incest: with or without consent, it’s a crime to sexually penetrate blood relations (mothers, sisters, brothers, fathers, first cousins, aunts and uncles) or to penetrate adoptive relations.
  • Compelled rape: this occurs when someone forces or compels a third person to commit an act of rape on another. Compelled sexual assault and compelled self-sexual assault are also crimes. Therefore, it is a crime to force someone to masturbate.
  • Sexual assault: this is any sexual act, or the threat of such an act, that doesn’t fit the definition of rape and that occurs without the survivor’s consent. Statutory sexual assault is also a crime.


Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust. (2011). What is Rape? In The Road to Recovery: You and Rape (pp. 4 – 5). [Online available from: http://rapecrisis.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/you-and-rape-booklet-english.pdf [Accessed: 21 July 2015].


Need Help?

Please refer to the Need Help? page on the menu bar, select either Student Support Referral List OR Student Counselling for more information on where to access help. 

Alcohol Abuse & Dependence: The Facts

According to a 2011 World Health Organisation (WHO) report, South Africa has one of the highest alcohol consumption rates per capita in the world. 


This makes alcohol the drug of choice for most South Africans, and particularly amongst the youth of our country. Two of the main factors contributing to this, not so glamorous accolade, is the fact that alcohol is both relatively cheap and easily available.

The Facts about Alcohol Use in South Africa 

Below are a few statistics on the impact alcohol use, abuse and dependence has on our country:

Mortuary statistics (2002) – Medical Research Council / UNISA 

  • 46% of all non-natural deaths, nationally, had blood alcohol concentrations greater than or equal to 0.05g/100ml, i.e. the national legal limit for driving.
  • Alcohol levels were particularly high among transport-related deaths (e.g. motor vehicle accidents) and homicides (i.e. murder).

Trauma unit statistics (2001) – Medical Research Council 

  • 39% of trauma patients in Cape Town, Durban and PE had a breath alcohol concentration greater than or equal to 0.05g/100ml.
  • Levels of alcohol are often consistently high in transport and violence related injuries seen in the trauma unit.

Demand for specialist treatment services (2003) – Medical Research Council

  • 52% of cases treated at the 52 specialist substance abuse treatment centres in Cape Town, Durban, Gauteng, Mpumalanga & PE, gave alcohol as their primary drug of abuse, and an additional 13% stated it as their secondary drug of abuse.

Alcohol and unsafe sex practices (2003) – Medical Research Council 

  • Research conducted among persons aged 25 – 44 years of age found a significant correlation between various forms of alcohol use and having multiple sexual partners and relations.

Alcohol and family violence (2003) – Medical Research Council

  • Between a third and half of arrests made in Cape Town & Johannesburg for “family violence” involved the use of alcohol at the time of the alleged offence.

Academic failure & absenteeism (1997) – Medical Research Council / UCT

  • A significant correlation was found between the use of alcohol and the number of days absent from school & repeating a grade among Grade 8’s – 11’s in Cape Town.
  • The odds of repeating a grade at school has been found to be 60% higher for learners who consume alcohol.


Parry, C. (2008). Fact Sheet – Alcohol Use in South Africa. Retrieved from:  http://www.sahealthinfo.co.za/admodule/alcohol.htm [Accessed on: 22 April 2015].


The Physical and Social Cost of Alcohol Abuse

The excessive use of alcohol, be it in the form of heavy or binge drinking, over time can lead to the onset of a variety of health and social problems, as well as the development of chronic diseases and neurological impairments – these include but are not limited to:

  • Cardiovascular problems e.g. hypertension, cardiomyopathy (heart disease), myocardial infarction (heart attack)
  • Psychiatric problems e.g. depression and anxiety
  • Gastrointestinal problems e.g. gastritis and pancreatitis
  • Liver diseases e.g. cirrhosis and alcoholic hepatitis
  • Dementia, stroke and neuropathy
  • Increased risk of certain types of cancer e.g. liver, mouth, throat, voice box and oesophagus
  • Unintentional injury and death e.g. motor vehicle accidents, falls, drowning and firearm injuries
  • Social problems e.g. loss of productivity, family problems, violence, unemployment
  • Unsafe sexual practices and increased risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections 
  • Poor nutritional status which may lead to a compromised immune system, resulting in increased susceptibility to opportunistic infections 

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National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence. (2015). FAQs / Facts. Retrieved from: https://ncadd.org/learn-about-alcohol/faqsfacts [Accessed on: 22 April 2015].

Parry, C. (2008). Fact Sheet – Alcohol Use in South Africa. Retrieved from:  http://www.sahealthinfo.co.za/admodule/alcohol.htm  [Accessed on: 22 April 2015].