This hospital’s refusal to treat a victim of child sexual abuse suggests a bigger problem

As serious as Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) is, it turns out that many people are yet to fully recognise the ramifications of the sexual exploitation of minors. What else could explain the blatant and humiliating way in which a few healthcare givers and law enforcement agents handle such sensitive cases? South Africa’s IOL reports that a certain mother cried foul against the Paarl Hospital in the country, over their refusal to attend to her four-year old daughter who had been raped on March 1, 2016.

The mother reportedly went to collect her social grant and left her daughter in care of her neighbors only to return and was told her daughter had been raped. She immediately reached out to the police, who responded soon enough but when they contacted the hospital, they were told to bring her in the next day, not minding the sensitivity of the case. The mother said the delay was due to the fact that there was no bleeding and the victim’s underwear was missing, alleging that after she was seen, the child was administered medication without instructions on how to use it.

Although the hospital has since apologised for the incident, the damage has already been done. According to IOL, the Provincial Department of Health spokesperson, Mark van der Heever, said the department has apologised for the “regrettable incident” and has asked the hospital to make contact with the mother. “It is not departmental policy to turn away anyone in need of medical assistance and neither the facility management nor the treating doctor was made aware of the incident. We will contact the mother to assist the department in identifying who the person is who turned them away,” he said.

The action displayed by the hospital staff is indicative, however, of a bigger problem – hypocrisy. You can assume that those who could have attended to this four-year old sexual abuse victim but didn’t would have condemned same situation if it had popped up on their social media timeline. But when presented with the situation, did nothing to resolve the situation by attending to her, at least, to reassure the child who just had her world turned upside down, that she still mattered. When did we, as a society, begin seeing such acts against a minor as a regular problem? When did we start becoming comfortable with rape?

If a four-year old victim of sexual abuse was not taken seriously by the healthcare system, what right does society have to demand proper care for such victims from law enforcement agents? By now we are all aware that several African law enforcement agents have reportedly taken cases like these with a pinch of salt around the continent.

Cases like this have basically set the precedence for whoever looks at a rape victim and sees it as just another problem, by reacting to such cases on social media and refusing to recognise the glaring urgency of such matters. Unfortunately, rape/child sexual abuse is not seen as something to be taken seriously; from administering treatment to locating and prosecuting the perpetrator(s).

Paarl Hospital needs to identify the person who asked the mother and child to come back for treatment another time, as the apology tendered can only be complete when the person has suffered some kind of punishment, to prevent others from creating a similar situation in the future.

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