If you’re being attacked whether by someone you know or a complete stranger it is critical that you act quickly to ensure you protect yourself.
If you don't know the identity of your attackers you should always try to note what they look like so that you can describe them to a sketch artist or identify them later. In situations of life and death it may be hard to do this but doing your best may save you a lot of anguish and fear in future when the perpetrators are arrested and prosecuted.
What to do if you’re attacked – defending yourself
An attack with demands is usually one where the offenders intend on robbing you of your possessions. In such a case it is always better to meet the demands of the robbers than to risk bringing harm to yourself or loved ones. Whether you are being attacked by someone you know or by complete strangers, it is critical to keep as calm as possible to ensure that you do not agitate the offenders, who might react with extreme violence should you try to resist.
If you are attacked directly, without any demands, you must scream and fight back, and do not stop until you have a chance of getting away. This type of attack is clearly one where the individual/s aim to injure, rape, abduct or kill you and reacting by screaming and fighting back could make them back off or alert any people in your vicinity that you need help. This is a situation where knowing self-defence could save your life. If there is anyone around run towards them and call the police immediately.
When in a physical confrontation use all your strength to hit, punch, kick, scratch and injure your attacker in any way possible to give yourself a chance to get away. Use your fists, open palms, fingers, elbows, knees and teeth (try not to bite open flesh but rather through clothing to avoid diseases) and scream as loudly as you possibly can while doing this. Sensitive areas where you could probably do more harm include the eyes, nose, neck, groin and stomach or upper chest where a strong kick or elbow shot could knock their air out and give you a chance to get away. If there are any people nearby run towards them and shout for the police to be called.
What should you do if you wake up with an intruder in your home?
If the person is rummaging through your things, pretend to be asleep and do not attempt to look until you’re certain they have left. If the person approaches you act immediately, surprise could work to your benefit. Target the eyes, nose, groin, and throat and strike them in the chin with all your strength. If you have a moment to escape – get out of the house if possible. If not run to another room and lock the door, you probably won’t have your phone but pretend to call the police and make as much noise as possible to try and alert our neighbours or anyone passing by.
What should you do if someone starts shooting in your vicinity or at you?
Your first and, probably instinctual move should always be to run as fast and as far away as possible however, if this is not a possibility your second thought should be to hide and/or barricade yourself. If neither of these is possible you will have to fight, get as close the individual as possible and strike with all your might to capacitate and disarm them.
If you’re under attack then you obviously need to react fast. Knowing your rights, as well as the best way to handle a difficult situation may not only ensure you can prosecute those responsible successfully later but it can save your life. It is imperative that you know that although you may legally use force to ward off an attack the force used against the perpetrator must be proportionate to the danger he or she poses. As an example, if you are being shot at, it would be an acceptable action to return fire to save your life however, if someone is slapping you, it will obviously be unreasonable to react by shooting the person. If you can call the police before the attack takes place, for example while an argument is occurring, then do so, it is always best to avoid an altercation or assault from taking place than have to deal with devastating consequences later. If the assault has already taken place, you can still call the police immediately after and if necessary, an ambulance. If you are injured in any way you must go to a hospital or doctor immediately not only to get appropriate treatment but also to obtain the necessary medical records you will need to prove your injuries later in court.
Common assault includes any form of assault where perpetrator has unlawfully used physical violence against you or has threatened you in such a manner that you believed that you would be physically harmed. The next type of assault is indecent assault and this is differentiated in that is must be physical and considered indecent. Assault with intent is the most serious form of assault and includes any assault which has taken place where the perpetrator intended to kill, rape, rob or physically harm you in any way. For assault with intent to stick the perpetrator must have wanted to or foreseen that their actions would’ve resulted in the assault. All the mentioned scenarios above that fall into this category should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
Laying an assault charge
Once you’ve been to a doctor or hospital you can then concentrate on laying an assault charge. This should be done at your nearest police station or charge office. The police will take a statement from you, once you have carefully read the statement and requested any additions or changes you feel necessary you will need to sign it. If the police was called out then arrests would’ve been made where possible and statements would’ve been taken on scene. You should then get a copy of your statement and a case reference number which will be used to track your case and note that this is also called an occurrence book number or OB number. If you are not capable of physically making an assault charge yourself your family may do so on your behalf.
If you were injured during the attack you will need to get a doctor to fill in a six-page document known as a J88 medical report form. This should be filled in by the doctor who initially treated you or by any doctor whether at a private or public hospital. This form plays a critical part in charging the perpetrator/s, establishing the validity of the accusation you’ll be making as well as proving the severity of the injuries you have sustained as a result of the attack which will determine the sentence or level of punishment to be handed down by a judge or magistrate in a criminal court. This form, once completed, needs to be returned to the police station or charge office where you laid the complaint. Make a copy of your completed J88 medical report form before handing this in and keep this with the copy of your statement. If you’d like to find out more information regarding the J88 form, you can visit www.medicalprotection.org and read about it from the perspective of a medical practitioner. Another article published on www.witsvuvuzela.com highlights the importance that the J88 form has in the successful prosecution and conviction of rapists.
The police will open what is known as a case docket, after which they are required to investigate the attack against you. An investigation officer will be assigned to your case and you should note this person’s name so that you can make the necessary follow-up inquiries later. The police will approach the alleged perpetrator and ask them to make a statement.
If the case is not being taken care of in an appropriate manner and time span than you may want to request legal council from a lawyer or attorney who will work on the case and assist you to claim from the perpetrator.
In the case of a successful prosecution and judgment you are entitled to claim for any medical expenses incurred as a result of the attack and any future medical expenses expected to be incurred, any loss of past, current and future earnings as a result of injuries sustained from the attack as well as general damages. It will be the responsibility of the prosecutor to prove that the assailant had indeed committed the crime and all evidence must be brought forth. If there were any witnesses to the assault it is important to allow them to testify on your behalf. If a claim is not made within a certain period of time after the incident the claim will fall away so it is critical to act fast and not wait too long before making the claim.
A magistrate or judge will review your case and make a judgment which will determine whether you will be entitled to claim monetary damages. This will be done in a civil court. In civil claims court it is not the state that prosecutes and an attorney must draw up papers and prepare the case for both parties. In a civil case you will be referred to as the Plaintiff and the perpetrator as the Defendant. The Plaintiff must demonstrate that their version of facts is more probable than that of the defendant’s. For claims of R12 000 or less, a Small Claims Court is usually used however note that you will be charged a fee to cover the costs of a summons and for a Sheriff of the Court to be present during the hearing. You may not be represented by a lawyer or attorney in the Small Claims Court however; advice and pre-court preparations may be made through a lawyer, attorney or paralegal.
A magistrate or judge in a criminal court will determine whether the assailant will be found guilty of breaking the law and whether they will receive prison time, a fine or other form of punishment for the offence. In such a criminal case the state bears the burden of proof. This means that it is the states responsibility to prove that the person who assaulted you is guilty of doing so.
An assault should definitely bring about both criminal and civil actions, depending on how you decide to proceed with the matter. If the state cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person who assaulted you is indeed guilty you may still proceed with civil action where you may receive monetary compensation for the assault once the judge or magistrate orders the person who assaulted you to pay these damages.
Some people also choose to settle certain matters out of court, mainly domestic violence cases through negotiation, mediation and arbitration to avoid excessive fees, long settlement waiting periods and other delays.
Should you, for whatever reason lose the trial you may lodge an appeal. This means that you will be asking a higher court to change the decision as ruled by the trial court. This isn’t usually a successful process due to the fact that no new evidence may be presented. The high court will simply review the report from the previous proceeding and determine if there is a basis for the appeal.
If you would like to read and consider some previous cases of assault, you can visit www.justice.org.za which has a broad range of judgments which describe the events, judgments and appeals in a detailed manner.
In order to proceed with a civil claim you must firstly make a report or statement about the incident. Then you should collect evidence by going to a doctor, taking photographs and collecting witness statements. This is also a good time to consult with an attorney to ensure that everything has been considered and that you are prepared adequately for court. When dealing with an assault you should file both a criminal case and civil claim because assaulting someone is against the law and you are also entitled to claim damages which can be both physical and mental. This must be done to ensure that the perpetrator receives punishment for the crime and also that you receive compensation for the incident.