The child rape epidemic: Assessing the incidence at Red Cross Hospital, Cape Town, and establishing the need for a new national protocol

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South African Medical Journal

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University of Cape Town

Introduction. There were 52 733 reported rapes in South Africa in 2003/2004, almost half of them involving children. South Africa is faced with the challenge of developing an appropriate management strategy to foster effective treatment and curtail the incidence of sexual assault. A child sexual assault protocol for the Western Cape exists, but does not address the specialised needs of the child. Objective. We aimed to ascertain the incidence of child rape seen at Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital, Cape Town, with emphasis on the circumstances that surround the victimisation of children. We also aimed to demonstrate the need for a new national standard protocol of specialised care for child victims' injuries. Method. A retrospective review of medical records of sexual assault victims from 2003 to 2005. Results. There were 294 patients, 254 females and 40 males. Victims ranged from 10 months to 13 years in age (mean 5.8 years). The number of cases and severity of injuries increased annually. There were 14 third-degree, 22 second-degree and 91 first-degree injuries. Seventy-nine per cent of assaults were by a perpetrator known to the victim. All but 5 perpetrators were male. Fifty-eight per cent of rapes occurred in the patient's own home or that of a friend or relative. Conclusion. The number and severity of injuries have increased yearly. This shift is consistent with the overall increase in reported sexual assaults. Policy makers must respond to this call. Finalising sexual assault policy, clinical management and evidence collection guidelines and ensuring that they are disseminated and implemented nationally must be prioritised. Educational drives targeting parents and patients with the demonstrated demographics must be established.