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.

Advertisements

Ramaphosa’s SONA and the issue of gender-based violence

Cyril Ramaphosa will have to explain on Thursday how the state will give effect to majority party January 8 statement commitments in the light of a shrinking fiscus.

Gender-based violence made it into the January 8 statement of the majority party. And not just a mention – a relatively thorough and honest assessment of the state of women and girl children in South Africa, and in particular the unprecedented levels of abuse, violence and murder suffered by them. The president said “we must hang our heads in shame” at the state of gender-based violence and the patriarchal practices that give rise to it in the country.

Indeed. He also asked the men in the stadium to stand and make a commitment to end gender-based violence. Contrast this with no mention of gender-based violence at all in last year’s January 8 statement.

The harrowing stories told by survivors at the recent Summit on Gender-Based Violence seem to have persuaded the party to highlight the issue as a national crisis. The women who took to the streets for #totalshutdown can legitimately claim the summit as a success, and it is very pleasing to see a rhetorical commitment to ending the scourge.

But when the president promised that “the ANC government will continue to scale up the network of Thuthuzela Care Centres and other victim empowerment initiatives” I really started paying attention.

Thuthuzela Care Centres are one-stop facilities, aimed at preventing secondary victimisation of rape and abuse victims, improving conviction rates, and reducing the time taken to finalise cases. There are 55 Thuthuzela Care Centres across the country.

The care centres are proving an antidote to the general level of non-reporting of sexual offences. Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust compared the patterns of reporting at three local Thuthuzela Care Centres that it recorded in Cape Town.

  • In 2014 there were 2,628 cases.
  • In 2015 there were 3,153 cases.
  • In 2016 there were 3,210 cases.
  • In 2017 there were 3,425 cases.

These increases match a decrease in reporting to local police stations. It makes sense – at most care centres counsellors inform the survivor about the complex processes involved in reporting rape: a nurse will counsel the survivor about potential health risks, including potential HIV infection, and prepare them for the forensic examination, which is conducted by a doctor specially trained to collect forensic evidence for the crimes of rape and sexual assault. After this examination, the first responder gives the survivor a care pack containing toiletries so that she can shower, change into clean underwear and brush her teeth.

A police detective takes a statement immediately or escorts the survivor to their home and makes an arrangement to take the statement the next day.

In some care centres, they work with or near a sexual offences court, which provides specialist infrastructure, personnel and services to survivors.

Donors have funded the care centres for some time. This funding will end on the 31st March 2019.

In recent research produced for the AIDS Foundation of South Africa and the Networking HIV & AIDS Community of Southern Africa, they highlight the ending of the Global Fund grant funding for the care centres. “The extensive funding provided the Global Fund to almost all care centres across the country raises concern around the care centres ability to effectively implement the provision of psychosocial services without support from other donors.”

All Thuthuzela Care Centre stakeholders interviewed thought that the ending of this tranche Global Fund grant funding on 31 March 2019 would have dire consequences for the services currently being offered. The withdrawal of Global Fund grant funding at the care centres may result in the loss of a number of NGO services.

So where will the funds come from to sustain the care centres? The president will have to explain how the state will give effect to majority party commitments, in the light of a shrinking fiscus.

Alison Tilley is the head of advocacy and special projects at the Open Democracy Advice Centre.

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

 

alison3

 

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

#NotOurLeaders

by Lisa Vetten, Vivienne Mentor-Lalu and Sanja Bornman

Tomorrow, 25 November, marks the start of the annual 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women. Activities led by government emphasise the importance of taking action to end gender-based violence but do political parties walk the talk?

notourleaders2

Mduduzi Manana has resigned from his position as the Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training and been convicted and sentenced for committing assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. But he is neither the first nor the only political representative to behave violently towards women. During this year’s 16 Days of Activism, the Women and Democracy Initiative (WDI) of the Dullah Omar Institute at the University of the Western Cape, Lawyers for Human Rights, and gender violence specialist Lisa Vetten turn the spotlight on political representatives and the protectors and keepers who enable their sexual misconduct and abuse. Each day the group will release the name and facts of a different case of a leader embroiled in sexual abuse charges. The aim is to reflect both on the incidents themselves, as well as the responses of the political parties to which these men belong, their actions proving a litmus test of their true commitment to addressing sexual violence.

South Africa’s political representatives are the guardians of the Constitution and rights it contains, including the right to gender equality and the right to be free from all forms of violence, whether from public or private sources. It is their responsibility to develop laws that advance these rights, hold government departments to account for their (in)action in this regard, and approve budgets that make these rights realities. But political representatives’ ability to improve women and men’s lives is compromised when they appoint abusive men to positions of power.

“Political parties that appoint these men, then fail to act against them, or protect them, are hypocritical. Over the next 16 days, we will hear a lot of public condemnation of violence against women and children from various leaders, but this campaign turns the focus on what politicians and parties actually do, not what they say,” said Sanja Bornman of the Lawyers for Human Rights’ Gender Equality programme. Parties undermine efforts to address gendered forms of violence when they fail to develop systems and procedures addressing sexual violence, or fail to put their policies and procedures into effect. They also hamper South Africa’s efforts to meet Goal 5 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Target 5.5 of this goal is to “ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life.” Yet women’s political participation and representation is undermined in environments where sexual violence and abuse go unchecked.

Says Lisa Vetten: “These problems are not new and if they are allowed to persist there is a risk they will become permanent features of our political landscape. As the country currently debates the quality of its political representatives this dimension of their conduct should not be overlooked.”

The individuals we will be focusing on are #NotOurLeaders and we demand that political structures act decisively and urgently to tackle the problems we will be highlighting during the 16 Days.

 

Lisa Vetten is a gender violence specialist based in Johannesburg, Vivienne Mentor-Lalu works at the Women and Democracy Initiative of the Dullah Omar Institute at the University of the Western Cape and Sanja Bornman works for Lawyers for Human Rights.