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ACDP calls for urgent parliamentary briefing following shock court ruling on sexual offences

KwaZulu-Natal, May 14, 2012 – African Christian Democratic Party chairman Jo-Ann Downs is aghast at the government’s blatant failure to protect women and children from rape and violent abuse. Her consternation comes in the wake of dozens of reported incidents of sexual abuse and system failures, the most recent being the penalty clause loophole in the new Sexual Offences Act.
This omission effectively means that anyone accused of certain crimes cannot be formally charged as there are no prescribed sentences for at least 29 offences listed in the Act. “This is a very serious omission that has far-reaching implications as sexual offenders may now be able to apply to have their charges squashed, or even worse, their convictions overturned. This cannot be tolerated as sexual offences are reaching endemic proportions in the country,” Downs said. “We have called for an urgent Justice Portfolio Committee briefing with a view to possibly amend the sexual offences legislation.”
After 15 years of aggressive campaigning against rape and other forms of violence against women, Downs is discouraged and outraged at the government’s apparent disregard of how this issue is fraying the moral fibre of South African society.
“Since the beginning of this month, incident after incident of sexual violence has come to light – and this is nothing new,” Downs said. “I have been told about no less than five rape cases in Limpopo that all happened during the first weekend in May, then there’s a whole host of other incidents I have come across in recent months. At the same time, I am incredulous at the poor example that the leaders and so-called role models in this country are setting.”
Downs was referring to the light sentence of three years imprisonment handed down to prominent businessman Sifiso Zulu for two counts of culpable homicide, reckless and negligent driving, failing to stop after an accident and drunken driving. “This is extremely disproportionate to the sentences for white collar crimes, which are usually between 15 and 20 years,” she said. “It would appear that violent crimes are considered less serious than white collar skulduggery.”

Another matter – that of the now infamous businessman, Kenny Kunene’s penchant for eating sushi off women’s bodies – also concerns Downs. “This level of objectification of women is absolutely unacceptable,” she said. “This compounds the problem of the huge amount of pornography, much of it violent, that is freely available.”
Other incidents that have raised Downs’ concern include a young girl whose eye was gouged out by her rapist. Also, in recent months, the rape of a young, mentally handicapped girl in rural KwaZulu-Natal  was recorded on video and widely disseminated throughout the community.
Worryingly, very little has changed since the ACDP started campaigning against rape 15 years ago, according to Downs. “The sad reality is that rape statistics for South Africa in particular have gone up instead of down, especially over the past 5 years. It is estimated that a woman born in South Africa has a greater chance of being raped than learning how to read. One in three of the 4 000 women questioned by the Community of Information, Empowerment and Transparency said they had been raped in the past year. More than 25 percent of South African men questioned in a survey recently conducted by the Medical Research Council admitted to raping someone; of those, nearly half said they had raped more than one person. And it is estimated that 500 000 rapes are committed annually in South Africa. These statistics speak for themselves,” Downs said.
Further compounding the problem is authorities’ lackadaisical and sometimes unethical response to reported cases of rape. “As and example, about three weeks ago a rape occurred in the Eastern Cape,” Downs said. The victim’s parents live in KwaZulu-Natal and when they went to their local police station to report the crime, they were told they had to do so at the police station in the precinct where the rape occurred, meaning that they would have to make an eight-hour round trip just to lay a charge.”
“Things are going from bad to worse – police stations used to rely on non-governmental organisations to provide rape kits – the government does not supply these – but these are no longer being supplied as many police officers were stealing the contents of these kits,” she added. “Also, help is not at hand for victims of rape in the rural areas – one can obtain rape kits from district surgeons, but most rural dwellers lack the means to get to their closest district surgeon.”
After all that the ACDP and other organisations have done to highlight lapses in the system, it’s beyond disappointing to know that such shoddy service from the police is still widespread,” Downs said. “The government needs to seriously reconsider and improve access to treatment and counseling for rape victims, the severity of sentencing for those found guilty of rape and its stance on access to pornography.”
“Leaders in the public and private spheres need to be held accountable if they set poor examples of how to treat women. Right now women and children constantly need to be looking over their shoulders almost constantly in the fear of being attacked and raped. This cannot be allowed to continue; something must be done before a state of anarchy with regards to this matter arises,” Downs concluded.

Created: 14 May 2012  [Current Affairs | Political Issues | Welfare Issues]