Expert advice on how to help a child who is a victim of rape

A young girl holding a teddy bear
A young girl holding a teddy bear/ iStock

RADA’s MD Jacqui Gilbert talks to us about how to help a child who is a victim of rape.

The recent incident of a 7-year-old girl who was raped at Dros restaurant’s toilet in Pretoria has left many South Africans fearing for their children’s safety. The sad reality is this is just one of many incidents – over 40% of all the rapes in South Africa are committed against children.

Of the 124 526 total rape cases reported in the last three financial years, children were the victims of 41% of these cases, revealed Minister of Police Bheki Cele in Parliament recently.

The frightening part is that the stats have been increasing throughout the years. In 2014/15 there were 15 520 child rapes reported. In 2015/16, 16 389 were reported and in 2016/17, the numbers rose even further to 19 071.

We spoke to RADA’s MD Jacqui Gilbert about how parents can help their child if they are a victim of rape.

She says the first step is to get the child to a safe place and then go to the police station and report the crime. She adds that although the child might want to wash themselves immediately after the rape, this might tamper with evidence, so it’s best to wait.

“Go to a doctor or hospital to be checked for damages and to have a test for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases. If positive, antiretrovirals will be administered for 28 days to prevent HIV as well as medication to prevent pregnancies,” says Gilbert.

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She adds that counselling is very important.

“It is extremely important to receive counselling from a professional to recover from the trauma. The acute trauma will last for few weeks or longer and is obviously different for each individual. Feelings of panic, anger, fear, shame and deep shock will unfold immediately after and for a few weeks. This is RTS – Rape trauma syndrome. Every individual is unique therefore reactions and healing time will be different, but counselling is suggested for recovery,” says Gilbert.

“In the healing process, the parent may notice signs of various behaviours for example; frustration, tantrums, anger, sleeplessness, nightmares, lack of appetite, depression and social withdrawal,” she says.

Jacqui adds that parents can help their child recover by being a loving, consistent, supportive, non-judgemental and calm parent.

“Most important is for the parents to remain as calm as possible as the first reaction is to want to revenge the attacker and to react with intense and violent anger, which is understandable, but this is the time to remain calm. Your child doesn’t at this time need any more anger and violent talk or questions as to why, how etc. Let them know you love them and care about them and allow them to speak as much as possible.

“Rape can take months or even years to recover from. The younger the child the more difficult as the child will block it out, but it will emerge again at a later age. They might lash out at parents or caregivers. There might be changes in personality and the child might suffer depression and nightmares etc. It is important through all these emotional ups and downs that parents remain patient, understanding, and always loving, supportive and to not be angry with the child or your partner at any time.

“The younger the child the less they will express themselves verbally, but more behaviourally. Above all, remember to be a loving, consistent, supportive, non-judgemental and calm parent. Mostly, the child needs unconditional love” concludes Gilbert.

 

Main image courtesy of iStock/ chameleonseye