Tougher sex crime sentences must be aligned to training

19 September 2016 - 10:10 By The Times Editorial

A new law, once passed, will see those convicted of rape of an elderly person being sentenced to life in jail. It's the latest in a series of sentencing legislation aimed at those who prey on the vulnerable - children, the disabled and the elderly - in society. This proposed legislation should be supported and welcomed in the hope that it will go some way in deterring perpetrators of these types of crimes. But before sentencing is handed down, perpetrators need to be caught, prosecuted and convicted.And herein lies the difficulty.About 150 women report being raped to the police in South Africa daily. Fewer than 30 of the cases will be prosecuted and no more than 10 will result in a conviction.This translates into an overall conviction rate of 4% to 8% of reported cases.Crime statistics do not break down the age categories of rape survivors but it can be argued that among vulnerable groups the levels of reporting, prosecution and conviction rates are much lower than for women in general.The minimum sentencing is just one cog in the justice wheel.Survivors need to have faith in the justice system - from the first police officer who takes their statement, the investigating officer assigned to the case, the prosecutor to the magistrate who will eventually hear the case.Sadly, this is not always the case.We often hear of rape survivors who are victimised again at police stations. There have been members of the judiciary who have apportioned blame on the rape survivor for wearing the wrong clothes, drinking alcohol or not saying no forcefully enough.Sensitivity training should be a priority for all those involved in the justice process, with training to understand the rationale attached to amendments like these.Until we can change the perceptions on rape, the application of the minimum sentencing legislation is nice to have.

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