Safe rooms vital for rape victims
In the open charge office, the officer taking her statement kept telling her to “speak up” as other officers and complainants milled about around her. There was no “safe space”.
Further humiliation followed when the person taking rape evidence remonstrated with her, telling her she had “no problem opening her legs for five men, so what’s so hard about doing it now?”
She said victim-friendly rooms were vital to allow survivors to tell police what they had been through.
Ndlovu said she was denied medication to prevent her from falling pregnant and contracting HIV. Four months after the attack, she realised she was pregnant. Ndlovu’s 9-year-old son lives with his grandmother.
“I do everything for my child, but I can’t bring myself to live with him because he is a constant reminder of the pain I have endured. I don’t know what I will tell him when he is older and wants to know who his father is,” Ndlovu explained.
When she was discharged from hospital, she followed up with police about her case. The officers told her to “relax”, and they would call her should there be any developments.
After a couple of months, a daughter of one of the police officers who were handling her case was raped by the same men who had raped Ndlovu. She said that was the only time the police showed interest in the case and called her to help catch the men, who were later found and arrested.
Today, Ndlovu is a consultant at Sonke Gender Justice. “I took this job because I want to help advocate for other women and children who are victims of abuse.”
Community education and mobilisation unit manager at Sonke Gender Justice, Nonhlanhla Sikhosana, said it was important to remember that rape victims had suffered trauma and needed a safe environment when they talked about it.
She said victim-friendly rooms at police stations were very important to help survivors feel protected.
The Pinetown Police Station has one of these rooms, recently renovated by Boxer Superstores. Station spokesperson Captain Bongumusa Manqele said victims felt safer when they spoke in private, and were more comfortable opening up to the police officer on their case.
“They tell their story freely and pay more attention to details which might help in the investigation, as opposed to speaking at the charge office with everyone listening,” Manqele said.
Project manager at Jess Ford Foundation Trish Gillefie said victim-friendly rooms were very important when dealing with victims of abuse. She said police stations were mandated to have these rooms, but they were not available at all police stations.
Gillefie said it was important for communities and NGOs to give a helping hand in ensuring the facilitation of these rooms. “Recently, we received a call from a small community in the Midlands, where they asked how they could help their police.
“We told them to speak to the police and help them set up a victim-friendly room, and keep it manned,” said Gillefie.Independent On Saturday