May doctors refuse to treat rape survivors in order to avoid having to give evidence in court?

David Jan McQuoid-Mason


It has been reported recently that private doctors often refuse to treat rape survivors because they do not want to give evidence in court. Private doctors and hospitals must treat patients in emergency situations, but may otherwise refuse to treat patients provided such refusal is not unconstitutional. Rape survivors require emergency medical treatment and should not be refused treatment by private doctors and hospitals because practitioners do not wish to give evidence in court. Such refusal is unconstitutional. Sexual assault evidence kits may be used by both private doctors and hospitals. Given the high rate of sexual violence in South Africa it is recommended that both private and state doctors should have stocks of sexual assault kits, and the National Police Commissioner’s national instruction for providing assistance to survivors of sexual offences. District surgeons ‘on call’ must treat rape survivors as requiring emergency medical treatment. They may not defer seeing them until the next day as this violates their constitutional right to dignity and exposes them to secondary victimisation.

Author's affiliations

David Jan McQuoid-Mason, David McQuoid-Mason is Professor of Law at the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, and publishes and teaches in medical law.

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Rape; Emergency medical treatment; Private hospitals; Duties of district surgeons

Cite this article

South African Journal of Bioethics and Law 2016;9(1):4. DOI:10.7196/SAJBL.2016.v9i1.461

Article History

Date submitted: 2016-02-19
Date published: 2016-05-25

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