Reporting rape – You have a right and a responsibility to report rape

By the author of

Image courtesy of Hazel Thompson

I have heard people, people who do not understand rape, have not endured it themselves, ask the question: “If you didn’t report the incident to the police, how do you expect anybody to take your question seriously?”

Rape is a trauma and worse so than any other because of the grave violation. Survivors can feel ashamed, frightened that they won’t be believed or in plain shock and denial.

Many reasons stop a survivor going to the police to report rape, often times it does not enter their minds, at least it did not enter mine. I was in shock and then encouraged to drop the matter, so I did. Only when the mask of shock that protected me for three months, kept me going, kept me cut off, dropped could I think straight. Only with the support of friends and family who encouraged me to speak out, to report the matter, did I contemplate going to the police. But as time passes and evidence is not taken, the case becomes a harder one to fight in court.

Too many people do not see or comprehend or perhaps do not want to admit the psychological effect. They think, Well if I was raped, I would have… But all the ‘I would have’s in the world will not kick in when even that person is put through the trauma of rape.

Trauma does strange things to people, it deletes their memory, it numbs their minds, and more (read more about PTSD here). All in an effort to help you cope, survive longer. Despite the reasons victims might not report or might take some time in reporting, it should be mandatory.

As I see it, rape is a crime. Rape is illegal and such violations of the law need to be handled by the police, need to be put in their hands. Even though the victim may not be in such a position to make that call, I believe someone close to them should do it for them, should encourage and help them with giving their statement. Surely someone privy to such information is wrong to not inform the police? Surely they are then an accomplice to the crime of rape? If I knew the name of someone who had murdered their wife, for instance, surely by keeping that information to myself I am being unlawful?

The victim has the right to pull out of pressing charges or of a court case at any time. They do not have to go to trial but at least by reporting the matter, the police are aware of the wrong doing. At least if that survivor does not push the matter, if another one comes along and charges the same man for rape, their story is made more believable because it is now not an isolated incident.

The idea of being put on trial in court is one I face too. It is fear of this that makes many rape survivors reluctant to report the crime. Millions of rapes go unreported and even if they never do report it, the rape still is not and never will be their fault. Just because it wasn’t reported doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen.

In court, the rapist gets a lawyer, as preposterous as that seems, and it is his job to make the survivor seem like she/he does not know what they’re talking about, was drunk or is promiscuous, any defence they can come up with, as false and as hurtful and offensive as it might be. Besides the court, there are other people who ‘put a victim on trial’, in the sense that they victim-blame. I have endured this and it too rattles the mind of the survivor, makes them doubt themselves, think they deserved to be raped. This delays if not wholly prevents them reporting the rape or even telling anyone at all.

Again, all this aside, we need to get these rapists behind bars and the more we treat rape not as a shameful thing, not as a questionable crime, and more like a murder or armed robbery, the more chance we have of achieving this.

In my eyes and in my hopes, victims who can should report the assault they have been through. I did so although the words could not come out of my mouth at first and my father had to step in to help, but eventually the words came and I gave my statement and felt proud to. If the victim is incapable of doing this, surely it remains the responsibility of someone who knows of the rape and knows the survivor well to report the matter. Surely this is a matter of law and if that person silences the survivor, they are committing a crime?

At the end of the day, even once we’ve reported the rape and gone to trial – not very easy things to do – the case might still be thrown out, but you have the right to go that far and a responsibility as a human being to other human beings, to not let rapists and silencers continue to reign.

For more information on what to do if you have been raped click here

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3 responses to “Reporting rape – You have a right and a responsibility to report rape

  1. Pingback: Tell Victim Empowerment In South Africa Your Story

  2. Thank you for the comment – I agree with it in that it is a big issue that has to be more closely considered, have its ins and outs picked out. I have tried to do so here:

    i do not know how other victims feel, just that one or two I have known wanted nothing to do with the rape once it had happened to them, they ran away as far as possible, physically and mentally, but they are suffering the effects now because they have not been able to handle the rape. I know of myself who now deeply, frustratingly, wishes that someone had taken me to the police the day it happened or a counseller first to guide me through it, I was so weak at that moment after being raped that I would have gone along with what anyone wanted to do, and I did – they wanted me silent.

    The idea of not having control wasnt an issue because i was in such shock and just going about the motions, that I wish someone had reported the rape for me. of course in cases like above where victims do not consent to the reporting the matter is complicated but what if rape was treated more like any other crime and the victim not doubted so, surely these survivors would have more willingly gone to the police? if they knew that it was mandatory, if they knew that what had happened to them was wrong and not their fault, in the same way someone breaking into your home is not your fault – even if you left the windows open…

    i agree that the survivor should be permitted some privacy and power after what happens to them, but as it stands the way rape is viewed in this country and world and in the legal sector, too many rapists are let off the hook! With any other crime that you might be a victim of – armed robbery, etc – you suffer trauma! And along with the reporting and investigation into the case, you receive (should you wish) counselling. I have come to the opinion that rape is treated too lightly. Yes it is a sensitive issue and yes we as survivors struggle to deal with the devastating effects which last years, but what is more devastating is watching the monster who raped you walking the streets free!

    Personally I was hoping for weeks that someone would step in for me, speak when words failed me, do when I found actions impossible. And report the rape. If it was mandatory, this would have happened. I would still ultimately hold the power because I could withdraw the case at any time!

  3. Nicolette Laume

    Rape should be reported. With this fact, I do not argue.

    However, should, in my mind, does not mean always or immediately. Rape is so incredibly complex, and we are still, as survivors, supporters and researchers, discovering new ways that rape effects a person. Definitions of what constitutes rape are even still changing and evolving. The entire argument of rape as a serious crime and form of trauma, the crux of this argument in fact, is still very recent.

    I don’t think that mandating reporting is viable. At what point is a survivor exempt from reporting? When does it become a friend or family member’s responsibility to report? Will they be allowed a grace period, before reporting is deemed mandatory? How or will children be included mandatory reporting? And what of traumatic sexual assault that does not include rape? Would other acts be encompassed in such a mandatory reporting scheme?

    Already, health care professionals, teachers, and therapists are all mandated to report crimes against their patients, students and clients. This form of mandatory reporting makes sense to me, as professionals have training and knowledge of what to do if they know or suspect that someone they are seeing has been raped, or plans to rape someone. I do not (yet?) see how the same strict codes for reporting, confidentiality, and proof of the crime or intent can be transferred to a friend, parent or child of a victim.

    Mandatory reporting by a friend or relative, as posited by this article, to me, also leaves survivors open to another, secondary trauma. Not being able to control who knows about this violation is itself often a violation. And while reporting the crime to the police is incredibly important, mandating this could very well impede a process of healing and strength-building after such a traumatic event.

    I do agree with the author that every rape should be reported, but I don’t think that it is possible or necessarily safe to mandate this. I think that the reasons that many victims don’t report, or take time before reporting are VERY important. Having control over such a choice is often one of the few things that a survivor feels they can control. That possibility for choice is empowering, and victim empowerment is what we should be focusing on, especially on this blog. Rather than further contributing focus to criminals and their guilt in South Africa, I think, especially in cases of rape and abuse, focus on the victim should be paramount.

    Mandatory reporting will not help everyone, despite the fervent wishes to do so. In complicating this argument, and asking the questions that I have, I only hope to further discussion and possibilities around increasing reporting. After all, I absolutely agree that rape should be reported, it’s just a matter of finding more ways to encourage reporting without contributing to further trauma.

    What ways, which are victim-centric, can we further develop to increase reporting, and victim empowerment??

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