The Italian rape appeal case that resulted in two men being acquitted for their rape conviction because the survivor was “too unattractive” and “too masculine” to be a credible survivor of rape is yet another example of how many justice systems around the world fail to address the scourge of rape - South Africa included.
In Italy, it was only when a mass outrage resulted in a protest against the court that the appeal verdict was put in to question. Now This reported News that the protestors accused Italy of having a “misogynistic justice system”.
In South Africa, there have been a number of high profile cases of rape and sexual assault that resulted in acquittals, sentencing that has been considered too lenient and granting of bail to rape accused who may be imminent threats to survivors. But all this is just a microcosm of what happens in other rape cases in the country and globally as well.
UN Women estimates that 35% of women across the world have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence (not including sexual harassment) at some point in their lives.
While the South African police rape statistics are seen as unreliable because they only take into account reported crimes, the past year’s stats still reflect an increase in rape by 0.5% in South Africa.
Numerous protests take place in South Africa and organisations focused on bettering the state of sexual assault in the country work tirelessly to address it. One of the organisations, Rape Crisis, has led protests, education and invested in research that addressed predicament of rape in South Africa.
A 2017 report titled Rape Justice in South Africa, by the Medical Research Council on behalf of the National Prosecuting Authority, revealed that only 8% of reported rapes result in conviction while the 2016/17 Crime Statistics published by the South African Police Service showed 49 960 reported sexual offences.
Yet, according to the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, as few as one in nine survivors of sexual offences actually report crimes to officials due to reporting barriers including a lack of faith in the criminal justice system. That puts the estimated number of sexual offences closer to 450 000.
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“We believe that the answer to this problem is for our government to establish more specialised sexual offences courts. These courts support rape survivors and have been proven to increase conviction rates as well as decreasing the time it takes to finalise cases. By increasing the number of specialised courts in South Africa, currently reported at 75 across the country, with the first one established in the early 1990s, we believe more survivors of sexual offences will be supported and have access to justice. Our research shows there is a distinct lack of information and support for survivors when entering the criminal justice system,” says Kathleen Dey from the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust.
To help Rape Crisis Cape Town, 1st For Women Foundation is donated funds to contribute to the organisation's advocacy work through the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign. This campaign focuses on specialised sexual offences courts as well as the criteria for defining the courts and the laws which govern and regulate the establishment and functioning of these courts.
The aim is to ensure higher conviction rates of perpetrators and to reduce the rates of secondary trauma experienced by survivors. The Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign holds government accountable for its promise to roll out ten new sexual offences courts per year over the next three years, across South Africa.
As the abuse of women is such a multifaceted problem, and the ways to address it must be done holistically, 1st for Women also launched an online platform in 2017 called For-Women.co.za, with the objective to unite all South Africans under one voice in the fight against women abuse. For-Women.co.za provides a database of NPOs to women affected by abuse. It allows South Africans and corporates to connect with specific NPOs to offer help and support.
“With one in four women being abused on a daily basis in South Africa, the conversation must be top of mind and should be raised at every opportunity. We have to tackle this problem together and through strength in numbers we can make a lasting difference,” says its marketing manager, Casey Rousseau.
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