Clinical factors associated with rape victims’ ability to testify in court: a records-based study of final psychiatric recommendation to court

  • TD Phaswana
  • D Van der Westhuizen
  • C Krüger
Keywords: Rape victims, Court referral, Psycho-legal assessment, Ability to testify in court, Mental retardation


Objective: A rape victim may encounter professionals in both the health and the legal systems. Unanswered questions remain about clinical factors associated with a rape victim’s ability to testify in court, and the quality of care offered to rape victims. The objectives of this study were thus to determine the clinical factors that are associated with a rape victim’s ability to testify in court, as well as to undertake a preliminary exploration of the referral system between the court and the mental health services.

Method: A retrospective study was conducted of rape victims referred by the court (n=70) to be assessed psycho-legally by psychiatrists. Rape victims who were recommended as able and those recommended as unable to testify in court were compared with regard to their clinical characteristics.
Results: Thirty-seven (53.6%) victims were recommended as able to testify and 32 (46.4%) victims as unable to testify in court. Victims
from rural areas and victims with severe mental retardation were statistically significantly more often found to be unable to testify in court.
Almost half (49.2%) of the victims were referred by court for first assessment within six months of being raped. Most (63.5%) victims
were assessed for the first time within one month of being referred. Conclusion: The decision about a victim’s ability to testify should not be based solely on the two statistically significant variables but, rather, individualised. Optimal mental health and legal services should be offered to rape victims. Further studies are required in assessing the collaboration between the health and legal systems.

Keywords: Rape victims; Court referral; Psycho-legal assessment; Ability to testify in court; Mental retardation


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1994-8220