Last week, to launch Women’s Month, and presumably `to honour’ women, two judges of the Pretoria High Court reduced to 20 years the life sentence of a man convicted of having repeatedly raped an 11-year-old girl, a girl he says he regarded as “a daughter.” The judges reduced the sentence because they determined that the 11-year-old girl “seemed to be a willing partner.”
According to the law, an eleven-year-old child is never a willing partner to anything. An eleven-year-old girl cannot give consent to sexual contact, and nobody gives consent to sexual violence. Period.
Or one can consider this abysmal case as the proof, if one were needed, that greater attention must be paid to serious investment in Sexual Offences Courts.
Alison Tilley began the week by asking, “Did you know we have only fifteen functioning sexual offences courts?” Last August, the Ministerial Advisory Task Team on the Adjudication of Sexual Offence Matters launched its Report on the Re-Establishment of Sexual Offences Courts. After a year of study, the task team issued a strong and clear report, with direct and clear recommendations: “In the final analysis, the report makes a clear finding that there is a need for the re-establishment of Sexual Offences Courts in South Africa … The Department must give priority to the immediate upgrading of the 57 regional courts that have been identified as being resourced closest to the Sexual Offences Court Model. This upgrading process must be done against available resources, and must commence in the 2013/2014 financial year.”
The original plan was to have 22 functioning courts by the end of 2013/2014 financial year. There are 15.
In South Africa, sexual offences courts began in 1993. By the end of 2005, there were 74 sexual offences courts. Little by little, the courts were closed because of “budget constraints.” The budgets weren’t `constrained.’ The legislators decided, with their wallets, that protection of the vulnerable just doesn’t matter all that much. It’s happened before, it’s happening again.
Last year, the discussion of Sexual Offences Courts was impelled by the torture of Anene Booysen. This year, perhaps, it will be moved by the judicial violence done to an eleven-year-old girl raped by a man who thought of her as “a daughter” and by a court, and court system, who didn’t think of her at all.
Dan Moshenberg writes at Women In and Beyond the Global and at Africa Is a Country, and is Director of the Women’s Studies Program at The George Washington University in Washington, DC.