THE SILENT RAPE OF SEX WORKERS

In South Africa, cases about rape have become our daily news, whether you read it on the morning news headlines, watch it on prime-time television news or hear about it from your neighbour. The news has become synonymous to hearing about the weather.

However, in the wake of the #Metoo campaigns and #Thetotalshutdown, there is a group of women whose voices are still suppressed. These women put their lives on the line to keep themselves, their families and their children below the poverty line in a country where unemployment is at an average of 52.15 percent. Crimes perpetrated against these women are not taken seriously, by the law, their neighbours, their partners and even some feminists.

Women who do sex work, are part of those women who are pushed to the margins, where they’re vulnerable and exposed to sexual violence because they chose to sell sex.

In South Africa studies that have been done in the past decades have shown that 1 in 5 sex workers will be raped in a period of 12 months, by either people posing as clients, police officers or their intimate partners. This study shows that sex workers are at high risk of rape, particularly where sex work is illegal.

The rape of sex workers comes in different shapes and folds, and because the women already sell sex, they are often seen as easy targets for such crimes. In South Africa, the current criminalisation of sex work means sex workers are on the frontline of gender-based violence, in that the perpetrator knows they are unlikely to report it, and that they are vulnerable and unprotected. Sex workers are targets because of these factors and the fact that they are often subject to violent misogyny [1].

In an instance were one is raped by a client, sex workers are reluctant to report the case to the police as they fear identifying themselves as sex workers, which puts them in jeopardy of being arrested or abused by the police.

Where police are involved or are the perpetrators, even if a case is successfully opened at the police station, it is most likely that the docket will get lost, or the case will be closed due to lack of evidence. This happens because police officers often cover for each other. In a study done in Cape Town, 12% of street-based sex workers reported that they had been raped by policeman [2].

In the case of intimate partner violence, sex workers are often blackmailed by their partners and made to feel less worthy because they sell sex. Some of their partners are threatened by their independence and the fact that they are making money from other men threatens their partners masculinity which can lead them to act out by being violent.

The stigma and discrimination that is attached to doing sex work is the main cause of violence experienced by sex workers. However, they face many folds of victimization because of the moral perspectives people hold. To many, sex workers are seen as people who deserve abuse because they chose to sell sex.

The current full criminalisation of sex work in South Africa leaves sex workers vulnerable to violence, harassment and abuse, and does not provide them with the necessary protection of their rights. International experience shows that the police can help prevent violence against sex workers, but this requires a big change in attitude. Sex workers must be thought of as an at-risk group who needs protection, rather than as a ‘nuisance’ or even a group who ‘deserve’ violence and abuse.

Research has shown that decriminalisation of sex work respects the rights of sex workers, reduces gender-based violence and will increase community and individual safety [3].

What is Decriminalisation of Sex Work?

Decriminalisation of sex work is when all laws that criminalise sex work in a country are removed and sex work is governed by the same laws that affect other employment, such as occupational health and safety and employment legislation.

What is Sex Work/er?

Sex work is the provision of sexual services for money or goods. Sex workers are women, men and transgendered people who receive money or goods in exchange for sexual services, and who consciously define those activities as income generating even if they do not consider sex work as their occupation.

*The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust organisation.

About the authors

Lesego Tlhwale is a Communication Professional and current Media & Advocacy Officer at Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT), a human rights organisation advocating for the health and human rights of sex workers. Lesego is passionate about advancing human rights of LGBTI people and sex workers.
Nosipho Vidima is a Human Rights Activist, Black Feminist, HIV Rights Activist and Womxn Rights Activist. She currently works at SWEAT (Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce) as a Human Rights and Lobbying Officer. Her daily work is Human Rights of sex workers nationally, where she insures that sex workers are reached with a holistic approach to accessing their basic and fundamental rights while accessing justice and legal recourse in the legal system that marginalises most women.

REFERENCES:

[1] Rangasami, j; constant, T; Manoek, S; Police Abuse of Sex Workers: Data from cases reported to the Women’s Legal Centre between 2011 and 2015; Women’s Legal Centre, 2016.

[2] Gould, C & Fick, N (2008). “Selling sex in Cape Town: Sex work and human trafficking in a South African city”. Pretoria/Tshwane, Institute for Security Studies.

[3] Manoek, S (2014). “Police Sensitisation Training Manual: A Guide for South African Police Service (SAPS) Officers to the Rights of Sex Workers and the LGBTI Community”. Women’s Legal Centre.

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I Believe Her: On the Power of Rape Survivors’ Voices

downloadEach time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women. – Maya Angelou

I don’t know how women do it.

Every now and again, the veil is lifted on the quiet terror all women live with each day. A violent crime is brought into the public domain, and we have to look the worst effects of violent masculinity in the eye. Usually, there is a woman’s voice at the centre. She stands in maelstrom, sharing the details of her trauma, all the while knowing that she might not be believed or that she will almost certainly be victimised even further.

Cheryl Zondi’s testimony in the trial of alleged rapist Timothy Omotoso felt different. Yes, we watched as Omotoso’s lawyer tried to discredit and diminish Zondi’s story. Yes, we saw some of the usual tired victim-blaming tropes emerging. But even with all of that, conversation and commentary remained supportive of Zondi. For once, we seemed to focus on the crime and the perpetrator, rather than the moral character of the survivor brave enough to tell her story, in the presence of the person who violated her. We were appalled at the way in which the justice system allowed the open revictimisation of someone who had not only survived primary victimisation but was willing to discuss it in the public forum.

So, what made this trial, and this survivor’s testimony different? What makes this case stand out, as opposed to the Zuma trial, the Kawa case, and so many other cases in which survivors were not believed and the public participated in their secondary victimisation? Put simply, by allowing for hers to be one of the few testimonies broadcast live into the homes of South Africans, Zondi gave face and voice to the trauma of sexual violence. While we could only imagine and speculate as to what Khwezi survived, in the Omotoso case, we have Cheryl Zondi, a survivor who reveals her face and her voice, in real time.

This is not to say that that’s right: we shouldn’t have to catalogue our pain in such public forums for it to be taken seriously. Women have been whispering about and screaming against sexual violence for so long, it seems unfair that society is only waking up to it at this moment. But Zondi’s publicised testimony was also broadcast in the wake of the #MeToo moment. In this particular global moment, women across the world are, perhaps for the first time, speaking everywhere and in various ways about what we have survived. Maybe Cheryl Zondi has, like many women, seen the tweets, read the countless stories, and heard echoes of her own pain. And there is a deep power in knowing that there are voices near and far, local and global, that will echo your own.

It makes even the quietest voice sound loud with conviction.

Perhaps that is the power of this moment brought to us by Cheryl Zondi’s testimony. In speaking publicly and possibly drawing on the strength of the #MeToo moment, she is creating further echoes and empowering even more survivors to add their voices to what should be a constant chorus of real outrage driving change. Because we believe Zondi, we might believe the next woman and the next, without having to see their faces and hear their words.

Because the truth is that, it is still an enormously risky thing to ‘come out’ as a survivor. You expose yourself to unfriendly clinical examinations of memories you may have worked hard to blur and bury. You are pulled into a process completely removed from the context in which you endured trauma and are compelled to relive it, with an audience. The 19 women who came forward and submitted their statements on the sexual harassment and assault they experienced and/or witnessed at Equal Education understandably stood fast in their right to remain anonymous. The independent inquiry took this insistence on anonymity as a reason to exclude their stories from their process. How sad. How strange. That years after their experiences at Equal Education, 19 women are still so afraid that they cannot make themselves known to an independent panel. But where you and I sense deep fear, the panel chooses to see procedural impropriety.

Stories like the unfolding Equal Education saga are proof of just how much it takes to speak out as a survivor. The #MeToo movement emboldened us somewhat and provided us with multiple ways to tell our stories. The Zondi testimony shows that society is now open to hearing and possibly even believing women. Just as long as we tell our stories publicly, in open court, before a judicial authority.

What I hope will be the enduring lesson of the Zondi testimony – what I want for all survivors who held our breaths through it – is that even as society still shuts out survivors who choose to speak differently, quietly, anonymously, we know that the public voices of women like Cheryl Zondi echo our own anonymous ones, and that we will be believed. Not by everyone, not everywhere.

But certainly by more people than would have believed us before.

By Rumbi Goredema Görgens

RGorgens

Enter Rumbi is a Zimbabwean-born South African-based feminist author. Her writing has appeared in O, The Oprah Magazine, Vela Magazine, and on FeministsSA.com and MyFirstTimeSA.com. She has worked with various South African civil society organisations, including Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust. Find more of her work at Rumbi Writes.a caption

 

The real numbers on sexual offences

In South Africa less than 1% of sexual offences result in justice for the victims of these crimes. The estimated number of sexual offences in South Africa is 645 580 each year and only one in 13 of these sexual offences are reported to the police. In other words, only 7,7% of sexual offences that take place are reported to police while 92,3% are unreported.

In 2017, 49 660 sexual offences were reported to the police and of these only 6 868 were prosecuted. So only 13,8% of cases that are reported are taken to court. (For more details on why this is the case read our article.)

Of the 6 868 cases that were prosecuted, 5 001 cases resulted in convictions.

5 001 convictions for 645 580 sexual offences crimes means that the actual percentage of sexual offence crimes that are convicted is 0,77%. We want this to change. That is why we are fighting for sexual offences courts

Statistics breakdown:

Estimated sexual offences in South Africa each year: 645 580

Number of reported sexual offences in South Africa per year (2017): 49 660

Number of sexual offence cases that were prosecuted in South Africa in one year: 6 868

Number of sexual offence cases that resulted in convictions: 5 001

Actual percentage of sexual offence crimes that are convicted: 0,77%

Resources: National Prosecuting Authority 2018/19 Annual Performance Plan: https://pmg.org.za/committee-meeting/26249/ Crime Stats SA: https://www.crimestatssa.com/national.php

The War at Home – Gender Based Violence Indicators Project, 1 November 2012: http://genderlinks.org.za/programme-web-menu/publications/the-war-at-home-gbv-indicators-project-2011-08-16/

Jeanne Bodenstein is the coordinator of the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign for the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust.

 

 

Comparing numbers on sexual offences statistics

Sean Abrahams. He’s still there. And he says he is doing a great job. He’s the head of the National Prosecuting Authority, and mostly famous for not prosecuting Jacob Zuma.

Many people think it doesn’t matter to them, and that the National Prosecuting Authority is a matter for politicians and journalists. Well, let’s take a look at gender-based violence; more specifically sexual offences. That’s an issue that you will know about, and in fact determines some of what you do. Those streets you don’t walk at night, those lectures you give your kids about people spiking their drinks? It’s because you don’t feel safe. One reason you may not feel safe is because rapists are not convicted in significant enough numbers. But how bad are those numbers really?

 Sean will tell you all is well. His NPA has a conviction rate of 72,8% on sexual offences. Sounds good, right? You can sleep better at night, knowing that?

Not so much. The number of convictions on Sean’s own version is 5 001.  The sexual offences crime category contains the crimes detailed in the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Act. Crimes that fall under this broad category include rape, compelled rape, sexual assault, incest, bestiality, statutory rape and sexual grooming of children – among others.

In 2016/17, the police recorded a total of 49 660 sexual offences, down from 51 895 in 2015/16. The vast majority of the sexual offences recorded were rapes, followed by sexual assaults.

If 49 660 cases were reported why are there only 5 001 convictions? Even if Sean’s maths is as bad as mine, that’s not 72,8% percent.  So, what’s going on?

Well, at the essence of it is the number of cases that make it to prosecution. At a Rape Crisis event in Cape Town showcasing research on sexual offences courts in May, Lisa Vetten reported on recent research on statistics around convictions. According to her findings an arrest is made in only 57% of cases and only 65% of those were referred for prosecution. Prosecutors accepted 34,4% and these were enrolled for trial. Trials started in 18,5% cases and 8,6% cases were finalised, with a verdict of guilty of a sexual offence.  

With these new statistics in mind it makes us wonder what Sean is talking about? In the 2017/2018 reporting period only an estimated 6 868 sexual offences cases were prosecuted and of these 5 001 resulted in convictions. This is where the National Prosecuting Authority gets their 72,8% success rate statistic.  Sean is therefore only referring to the handful of cases that his staff have cherry picked for prosecution, which have really good prospects of success. What is a ‘good’ rape case? This is usually seen as a respectable, presentable victim, who is sober, badly injured, and has only enough of a relationship with the perpetrator to identify him. What’s a bad case? On the whole this is seen as anyone who is too young, too old, had a few beers, was in the wrong place, or the investigating officer didn’t investigate properly.

 Case investigations are led by constables, in half of the cases. In half the cases the perpetrator was fully named and in 70% of these cases his or her contact details were also supplied. There are nevertheless many cases where the police investigation and documentation of this is deficient. In the dockets the address of the complainant is not always recorded (2,1% of cases), the complainant statement was not signed (13,4% of cases) and the complainant or guardian’s telephone number was missing (21,5% of cases). In only 7% of cases was it noted that the Investigating Officer’s name and contact number had been given to the complainant.

So that’s part of why prosecutors declined to prosecute in 47,7 % of cases referred by police for prosecution. It also explains how the NPA can claim a 72,8% success rate on convictions. As we can see, the actual stats show a very different story when it comes to sexual offences and violence against women.

Sean Abrahams. He’s still there. And he says he is doing a great job. 

 Find out more about what makes a strong rape case from the courts perspective here: https://rapecrisisblog.wordpress.com/2018/05/29/evidence-rape-court-case/

Download the full report: Rape Justice In South Africa: A Retrospective Study Of The Investigation, Prosecution And Adjudication Of Reported Rape Cases From 2012: http://www.mrc.ac.za/reports/rape-justice-south-africa-retrospective-study-investigation-prosecution-and-adjudication

 

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Alison Tilley is an attorney, and the head of advocacy at the Open Democracy Advice Centre, which is a law centre based in South Africa, specialising in access to information and whistleblowing law. The Centre works on these transparency issues across Africa.www.opendemocracy.org.za