Raped at 10, assaulted at 15, then harassed in the police station while laying charges

“Her friends at boarding school keep asking why she’s crying and fighting with someone in her sleep,” a mother in Klapmuts, near Stellenbosch, says, describing her daughter’s constant nightmares.

Her daughter, Thembi*, was raped at the age of ten. In February this year, aged 15, she was sexually assaulted. The day after the assault, when her mother took Thembi to the police to open a case, the child was harassed inside Klapmuts police station by a member of the public.

Thembi’s mother recalls that at 9pm on 3 February her eldest daughter phoned: “Mommy, come now, there is a big man hitting Thembi.” Her daughters were at the family-run meat stand, not too far from home.

“I immediately ran there,” says Thembi’s mother. Thembi was crying in the street, surrounded by bystanders. “She told me a drunk man, who lived in the community, came and touched her breasts. When she pushed him away, he slapped her. He ran away when people came out. They couldn’t find him.”

“The police came to the scene. I told them to search the community for that guy and they said they couldn’t. What made me angry was when the policeman told me to go to the police station with my child so late at night to open a case. How could they expect a woman with young girls to cross the railway line alone at 10pm?” She says they should have been escorted there by the police.

Thembi’s mother took her daughter to the police station the next day. At the station, they had to stand while waiting in the charge room. “It was so full. There were three officers there at the time. They were the same police on duty the night before, so they knew I was coming for the sexual assault of a minor.” She says police should have opened the trauma room at the back.

“While we were waiting for a detective from the Stellenbosch unit [Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences] to arrive, an old, drunk oupa came and put his arms around Thembi. She got a fright and I was so angry I just hit him.”

She said a police officer had taken the man away.

Thembi and her mother are being supported by the organisation Women on Farms Project (WFP). According to Rebecca Mort of the project, the station commander has apologised for the treatment they received at the station.

Thembi’s mother says that while working at the braai stand she saw the man who sexually assaulted her daughter. She called the police, but the man was only arrested six days after the assault. He was released on bail. She was not notified. He is due to appear in court in May.

Thembi has moved back home from boarding school in Wellington. She now goes to a school in Paarl and sleeps at home. Her mother says she rarely leaves home unaccompanied.

“It was only in December 2016 when she first told her friend and then me about what happened to her [the rape in 2013],” says Thembi’s mother. The rapist was known to them and she laid charges. He was arrested in March 2017. He was let out on bail of R600. He had a previous rape charge. His trial continues in May, she says.

Provincial police spokesperson Andrè Traut said Thembi’s mother and Mort had met officers but “declined to lodge an official complaint at the time” about their treatment at the police station. He said the sexual assault case was being investigated by the Stellenbosch Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences unit.

* Thembi is not her real name. Her name has been withheld to protect her identity.



This story first appeared on GroundUp

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