For the past three months, Brits District Hospital’s crisis centre recorded a shocking increase of sexual assaults on female hitchhikers at night departing from their workplaces to their homes. According to Sister Suzan Ndlovu, the hospital’s forensic nurse, more than ten (10) rape survivors have been witnessed at the hospital.
“Central to these cases, is that all of these rape survivors are working for restaurants and retail outlets and they have to knock off late, and unfortunately public transport to ferry them home at that time is not available,” Sister Ndlovu explained. She went on to say, “Having realised this lack of public transport, perpetrators seemed to be targeting these vulnerable women at the hiking spots like petrol stations and garages. We are concerned as a hospital about these repeated rapes that violate the rights of women.”
One of the rape survivors, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the three of them were allegedly raped by two men who gave them a lift from a popular hiking spot next to a petrol station in Brits on their way to Letlhabile. “The three of us jumped into their Honda ballade without thinking that we were risking ourselves,” they attested. She said that those men were very friendly until they drove out of Brits.
This is where they were taken to a deserted area where the men took turns raping them at gunpoint. Afterward, they robbed them. Sister Ndlovu raised the concern that 9 out of 10 cases reported are of women who hitchhiked from Brits to Letlhabile.
“Serious consideration by various stakeholders such as the taxi industry or bus industry is needed to avert this disturbing trend,” Sister Ndlovu added. Another rape survivor advised women hitchhikers to be vigilant especially at night. “For security precautions, take note of the license plate number of any car you get into and also look out for the car features or accessories. You can also ask the driver to first display his car registration number and valid driver’s licence and make sure you inform him that it is just a precautionary measure you take with all drivers who offer you a lift. You can do that so that the driver does not feel that you do not trust him,” she stressed.
Rape victims are urged to report urgently to South African Police Services (SAPS) as that will enable them to be attended to around the clock to mitigate against Sexual Transmitted Infections (STIs), HIV infections and trauma.
The SAPS will take the sexual victims to Bapong Community Health Centre (CHC) or Brits Hospital or Letlhabile Community Health Centre (CHC) for further medical examinations. Speaking on behalf of the hospital’s executive management, Ms Dineo Moromane, who is the nursing services manager, said that the hospital is also affected as most of its employees are women, and furthermore, most of those women work awkward hours as well as night shifts.
“As a nation we need to understand that one sexual assault is one too many and everyone of us needs to understand from the deepest level that these incidents leave behind lasting effects that impact on peoples’ lives, not only regarding victims but on their families as well as their employers. The already strained resources of the hospital and that of police services are also exasperated,” Ms Moromane remarked. She further said that Brits Hospital is planning to embark on a campaign to encourage women to speak out and seek help and support.
She said, “They must understand the full range of options available to them when they report these cases. We will also engage other stakeholders such as taxi association to assist in finding lasting solutions within our communities to scourges such as these,” concluded Ms. Moromane.