Not Enough

2013-04-19 00:00

THE recent press coverage on rapes, of both children and the elderly, has engendered a sense of shock and horror nationally, and internationally. Although rape and sexual-abuse levels in South Africa have long been among the highest in the world of any country not at war, recent reports have detailed unbelievably cruel and savage acts of sexual and physical torture.

As has happened in the past when the press calls attention to the high levels of sexual assault, there is a flurry of reactive comment and action to deal with the crisis. However, sustained programmes and responses, based on consultation and careful planning, and evidence-based programme development has been, and remains, sadly lacking.

Many of the knee-jerk reactionary programmes have been well-intentioned and driven by the urgency of the problem, and emotion of the moment. However, the effective prevention of rape and sexual abuse needs to be based on more than emotion. We need to know and understand the factors that create and drive this violent behaviour, and plan and implement effective preventive programmes that do more than simply respond to rape and sexual assault once it has occurred, but prevent it occurring or re-occurring.

What is known about the factors that cause and drive

sexually violent


• There is no single causal factor, but rather a number of events and processes shape and sustain sexual violence (Prentky 2002, Jewkes (2006).

• The behaviour usually has its genesis in childhood experiences, such as exposure to domestic violence, abuse, emotional deprivation, and distorted belief systems.

It therefore follows that effective prevention strategies and programmes must:

• address a multiplicity of factors;

• be evidence based; and

• be multi-tiered and include primary, secondary and tertiary prevention programmes.

Primary prevention addresses those factors associated with root cause. South African parents, both mothers and fathers, need to look at how they raise their children, particularly boy children, and how they manage the relationships within the family. The exposure of children to domestic violence is strongly associated with sexual-offending behaviour, as is emotional deprivation and disciplinary practices that involve any form of physical, verbal or emotional violence.

We need to raise boys to recognise that their (usually) superior physical power should be used to protect and not exploit, that masculinity does not have to do with sexual prowess, male entitlement to sexual pleasure, and exploitive power over women and girls. We need to raise boys with an awareness of their emotions and how these drive behaviour, as well as teach them how to manage strong emotion and forces such as sexual arousal and need for expression. Basically, we need to raise boys to be good men, and both parents share this responsibility. Mothers who have different rules for behaviour for differently gendered children, and who privilege their male offspring, are as responsible for the negative outcomes of this as are fathers who neglect the responsibility of being positive, protective and appropriate male role models.

Prevention at a secondary level involves appropriate and remedial responses to inappropriate behaviour, such as bullying and inappropriate sexual behaviour, as soon as possible after it comes to the attention of parents or authority figures. The Child Justice Act recognises the need for early intervention for children in conflict with the law, and establishes the possibility of participation in diversion programmes for children and youth who present with behaviour that is violent or exploitive.

Tertiary prevention provides for rehabilitation programmes for those who have committed acts of sexual violence.

Rehabilitation programmes for sexual offenders are becoming more widely established, as the evidence base for sex-offence specific programmes based on cognitive behavioural theory and practice, is well-established.

Some of the

prevention lessons learnT by those who work in this difficult field

• Teaching children to say “no” to abuse is not effective. Many of the children who attend Childline’s therapy programmes have been given this message, but in the situation of abuse they lack the power, either physical or psychological, to use the message effectively to protect themselves. It is essential to realise that children are relatively powerless in a situation of abuse and also are handicapped by the culturally universal norm to obey and respect the requests and demands of older people, especially those in a position of authority. In fact, Childline has worked with numerous children who, in a situation of sexual violence, have complied, and this appears to have contributed to their survival.

• Teaching children self-defence skills: this is a concerning response to the prevention of sexual abuse. Efforts at controlling adult behaviour in this way place children at great risk of a greater degree of violence aimed at getting the child to comply with the offender’s demands.

• Campaigns such as 16 days of activism against abuse and sexual violence do not appear to have contributed to an abatement of the problem.

• Empowerment of the girl child: although this is an essential process to ensure that girls and boys have equal access to education, and in adulthood to professions and occupations, and financial security, it has not been a successful strategy in stemming the tide of sexual abuse and rape.

• Life sentences for rapists have not succeeded in reducing rape and sexual assault. The poor functioning of our police and justice services in responding to rape and sexual assault contribute to the fact that few offenders are convicted and sentenced, and therefore the anticipation of possible negative outcomes of sexual behaviour simply does not occur for many offenders.

• The Sexual Offender Register: Worldwide, offender registers do not appear to have contributed significantly to reductions in sexual crimes. South Africa, despite the discouraging research on offender registers, has three. The sad (and irresponsible) wastage of resources should be rationalised and the money rather spent on evidence-based strategies and programmes.

In summary: South

Africa, if serious about reducing rape and sexual crimes, needs to:

• stop the knee-jerk reaction to publicised and horrific rapes and killings;

• stop the blame game. Yes, the history of this country has been a significant driver of many of our present challenges, but dwelling on this takes us nowhere. We need to address the issues;

• accept that there is no magic bullet or short-term total solution. If we are serious about addressing prevention of rape effectively, we are in for the “long haul”;

• plan logically — using expert advice, quality research, drawing on local and international knowledge;

• invest in evidence-based strategies at all levels of prevention, such as investment in parenting programmes that encourage non-violent discipline and proscribe corporal punishment, invest in programmes that target young and older men and support positive, non-violent constructs of masculinity, responsible and protective partnerships and parenting;

• monitor and evaluate strategies and programmes, recognising that some investments will require long-term implementation before results are apparent, and thus requiring long-term monitoring and evaluation;

• further law reform — sadly the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act did not take on board many of the recommendations of the SA Law Reform Project Committee on Sexual Offences. Their final report should be revisited and further amendments made to improve prevention and management of rape and other sexual offences;

• implement the law: train, retrain, mentor, supervise and hold accountable firstly police services who provide the entrance into the Criminal Justice System, and secondly justice personnel who have responsibilities in managing and responding to sexual offences;

• stop playing with statistics — let us have some honest accounting for the sexual-offences courts and Thuthuzela Centres. There may be a 60% to 80% success rate on matters taken to trial, but if in a single month five to six matters are taken to trial, but over 200 cases are withdrawn by the same court, often with no notice to the victim, what has this court actually achieved? Forty percent of all sexual offences are against children. If many of these withdrawals involve child victims, and about 80% of child victims are sexually abused by someone in their family or community, there is an urgent need to make sure that safety plans are being made, to ensure that children are not re-victimised; and

• give children back their childhood. Rather than hold them responsible for protecting themselves, accept that children have limited ability to do this. Children are entitled to safety and protection in every sphere of their life. Adults must take responsibility for keeping children safe.

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