MPs demand action on jail rapes
Cape Town - MPs have demanded to know what action the correctional services department will take to stamp out sexual violence in men's prisons after receiving a "shocking" report that details sodomy and forced "marriages".
"We are shocked by the fact that it is reconfirmed," Vincent Smith, the chairperson of the portfolio committee on correctional services, said on Wednesday after a briefing by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR).
"We all know about it. We are just shocked it is coming out from experts."
Smith told acting correctional services commissioner Jenny Schreiner that he wanted answers from the department when it next appeared in Parliament for a briefing on security on May 12.
Cameras in cells
A number of measures could be taken straight away, he said. These included categorising prisoners as they came into jails and dividing first-time offenders from hardened criminals to avoid rapes.
"You have to find a mechanism of separating them from those that we know are hardened and in all likelihood going to perpetuate this heinous crime."
Smith said the committee was prepared to fight for the installation of surveillance cameras in cells, even if it meant taking on human rights activists.
"I think we must be prepared to fight about surveillance, even if it means there is going to be opposition from human rights and from everyone else. It is also an abuse of human rights of the victim."
He said wardens and prison officials also had to take a stand on the matter.
"It can't be an excuse that I am a hardened somebody that I will turn a blind eye when someone is abused. I would rather have a hardened person in the street, unemployed, than a hardened person as a warder."
"We are serious. We can't talk about these things anymore. The committee will make noise about this matter. We will take it to the streets if we need to."
Schreiner said the department would take immediate steps to start "tracking" rape information.
She promised a zero tolerance approach to sexual violence and she would ensure "a very clear message is conveyed to inmates and officials".
"We have heard loudly what you have summarised," she said.
"It is endorsed by us fully and a zero tolerance approach will take place."
According to the CSVR report prison rape frequently occurs when a newly-arrived inmate accepts food, drugs or protection from another prisoner who pretends to be concerned for the "usually terrified and overwhelmed" newcomer.
The new inmate will most often assume that this is simply a gesture of support.
"However, according to the ideas and ways of doing things that are accepted and endorsed by the inmate power structures, by eating the food or smoking the cigarette a debt has now been created," the report states.
"The new naive offender will only later learn that he is expected to pay back this debt with sex. And when he tried to refuse, he will learn that he has no choice in the matter."
According to the report, victims of sexual violence are perceived as "women" by inmate culture and that forced sexual penetration is believed to demolish manhood.