By Hlamvu Yose, Journalism & Media Studies postgraduate student
Sexual violence has become a gruesome topic in the country. On 7 August 2018, as part of the Silent Protest Programme, Rhodes university hosted a “Rape and the Law” panel discussion, where Dr Benita Moolman, Mx Lisa Vetten, Dr Thulane Gxubane and Advocate Nicola Turner spoke about how the criminal justice system responds to rape.
Moolman is a research specialist for the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and has worked for the Cape Town Rape Crisis. She focused on the ethical accountability of sexual offenders. Moolman’s study was conducted using KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and the Western Cape prisons, where she interviewed sexual offenders to see where their habit came from. She came to the conclusion that most sexual offenders do not admit to their crime, and tend to shift the blame to religious or cultural moral stances as a way of trying to justify their actions. Sometimes, it is society that justifies these actions with the attitude, “men/boys are like that”, which helps them get away with their actions and not be held accountable. Moolman said, “Being remorseful and saying sorry does not mean that the person is taking responsibility and accountability for their actions.”
Adding to Moolman’s comments, Gxubane, a Social Work lecturer at the University of Cape Town, said that justice and prison are not about forgiveness, and that rehabilitating the perpetrator is not often successful. Gxubane believes that restoration is one of the ways that can help place the needs of the victim in the centre of the justice system. Restoration gives a platform to the victim to tell their side of the story without feeling that they are being judged. It also helps the offender admit to their crimes, and to provide the victim with the answers they seek. The offender is placed in a position in which they are made accountable for their actions. Both parties, the victim and the offender, need to be willing to partake in the process. Gxubane considers prison a “soft” punishment because it does not help the perpetrator face the gravity of his crime.
Vetten said that the law shows power and might, and its focus is to punish and discipline. She highlighted that only a few of reported cases result in prosecution and successful conviction. The arrest rate in the Eastern Cape is 61% of all reported cases, and out of these, only 19% arrests make it to court. This is due to factors such as lack of evidence that can be used in the prosecution of the case and that at times plaintiffs withdraw from the case. Vetten also highlighted that the system is sorely under-resourced. She stressed that victims need to be told that rape cases, on average, take about three years in the justice system before a verdict is given.
“Some people feel as though the justice system in South Africa is not effective because they do not know that police are not given adequate resources to investigate such crimes”, Vetten said.
Turner ended the discussion by stating that victims of rape should be strongly encouraged to report rape to the police. “There is a system in place for you to feel safe,” she said. She also gave advice on how to say no to spousal sex, by either walking out of a room or to scream as loudly as possible. “It is our responsibility to know that there is no shame in being a rape complainant,” she concluded.