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RAPE: a case for strengthening Accountability

8 June 2016

Two recent events highlighted the issue of gender based violence and its prevalence. Dee Smythe launched her book ‘Rape Unresolved’ and the Centre for Conflict Resolution hosted a public dialogue featuring Pumla Qgola’s ‘Rape: A South African Nightmare’.  One of our interns, Fatima Mathivha attended both events. We have chosen to share these with our readers in an effort to contribute to addressing this scourge in our society.

Every day in South Africa 1 000 women are raped. It is estimated the du3U4xtonly 10% of rape survivors will report the case.  Despite the low levels of reporting, did you know that eight out of ten rape cases in South Africa don’t make it to court? All of these cases, once closed, leave the complainants no room to engage with any particular details of the case further.

What happensto 80% of rape cases that never make it to court? Professor Dee Smythe’s recently published book ‘Rape Unresolved: Policing Sexual Offences in South Africa’ uncovers the system and mechanisms behind this phenomena, exposing the beliefs, deficits and processes that lead to this miscarriage of justice.

Many of the issues surrounding the withdrawal and closure of rape cases relate to issues of accountability. For example, rape cases are closed based on handwritten notes made by the investigating officers, which do not require specific and clear justifications for a case being closed or withdrawn, and are not verifiable in any manner other than the note itself. The closure or withdrawal of a rape case is solely dependant on decisions taken by an investigating officer. In other words, there are no checks and balances in place that enable the review or assessment of the authenticity, or validity, of closures and withdrawals of rape cases.

With the possibility of false withdrawals, closures and the potential negative consequences of police discretion, the case for greater levels of accountability in the dealing with rape cases becomes even more urgent.

With an estimated 45 000 rape cases closed or withdrawn every year it is evident the more consideration needs to be given to the ways in which we can develop and implement systems that ensure that justifications for decisions related to the status of rape cases given is justifiable and verifiable. Overall much more accountability is required.

It is estimated that only 1% of rape survivors will see justice. And given the traumatic nature of rape, when we close a rape case without ensuring rationality, thoroughness and accountability at every stage, we deny justice to those that need it most.

You can view images taken on the night here (courtesy of UCT Press)

Pumla Qgola’s ‘Rape: A South African Nightmare’ cuts through the repetitive discourse – often consisting of confusion, shock and dismay – unearthing some of the patterns that underlie society’s responses to rape. What lies beneath is both damning and hopeful.

Rape has become a part of the fabric of the South African society. We’re always talking about this – it’s on our tv screens, in our newspapers, in our schools, at our workplaces, in our parks and in our homes. Our talk about rape is obsessive and often overwhelming. And this is where the paradox lies – we are a country that’s always talking about rape but is unable to get a firm grasp on it.

Her narrative is a master class on rape, unpacking how rape culture permeates every corner of society, instilling fear, trivialising the trauma of rape and protecting those that rape. She addresses the history of rape, race, fear, child rape, rape myths and violent masculinities.

We begin to understand that the ways in which we respond to rape are often the same ways it is entrenched. It is this moment of self-reflection that is perhaps most hopeful. Offering a way out of the cycle of perpetual and unproductive rape talk.

At a recent public dialogue on the book hosted by the Centre for Conflict Resolution, academic, author and activist Helen Moffet said, “this tool [book] is a weapon in the battle against sexualised violence… She gives you all the tools you need to take them down… She does the work so that we don’t have to ever again. She’s done it for us.”

Gqola’s Rape: A South African Nightmare should be required reading for all South Africans, starting a new conversation about how we can disrupt the shock, awe and denial, give a voice to the silenced and put back against the gate-keepers and claim justice for all South Africans.

Click here for photos from the event.


Rape: A South African Nightmare has just won the Sunday Times Alan Paton Award for non-fiction.

See details here


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