Jail rape: The sordid facts

2005-03-01 22:15

Cape Town - Confusion and a lack of any clear policy to deal with the sexual interaction of prisoners made it difficult to prevent the rape of inmates in South Africa's prisons, parliament's correctional services portfolio committee heard on Tuesday.

Briefing the committee about gangs and sexual violence in the country's prisons, researchers from the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) said the department of correctional services' 2002 anti-rape strategy had not yet filtered down.

"The people on the ground have never ever heard of it," CSVR researcher Sasha Gear told MPs.

There was no support structure for prison staff or inmates, and rights and roles were not clearly defined.

While consensual sex between adult inmates in prison was constitutionally legal, the problem arose where force was used, which was often the case.

Blatant rape

"Much of the sex that takes place in prison happens along gender lines.

"Depending on a person's role in the sex act, participants are identified in prison culture as men or women," said Gear.

Most of the sex was highly coercive, and blatant rape.

According to prison culture, anyone who had been "sexually penetrated in a power-defined interaction", was considered a woman, and it was then their job to provide men with sex.

"A 'marriage' begins with the act of rape (penetration), and the 'wife' is then the constant target of humiliation," she said.

She added, however, that the term "homosexuality" was taboo among prisoners, especially those involved in "marriage relationships" where the role of each partner was clearly defined.

"Sex by mutual consent, where both parties take turns to be penetrated, is also a taboo because it breaks the rules of prison sex and is associated with homosexuality," she said.

Gear said an aggressive sexual nature was often carried into the outside world by prisoners on their release, leading to further acts of violence through warped perceptions of reality.

This was particularly true of young prisoners.

Some warders take part in 'trade'

There was no clear policy regarding sexual assault. This led to confusion of what was outlawed and what was not, she said.

The situation was aggravated by warder involvement. Gear said some warders took part in the "trade" of prisoners for coercive sex and rape.

"A sense of resignation among officials to the fact of sexual abuse is reported, as well as fear for their own safety should they intervene," Gear said, noting that overcrowded prisons made the problem worse.

Committee chairman Dennis Bloem agreed the situation had to be investigated, and acted upon immediately.