Editorial

Breaking the silence on sexual assault

Sparked by the Harvey Weinstein scandal, thousands of women have taken to Facebook and Twitter to reveal that they have been victims of sexual assault

22 October 2017 - 00:00 By SUNDAY TIMES

There has been varied reaction to the #MeToo hurricane that has swept the world in the past week. Sparked by the Harvey Weinstein scandal, thousands of women have taken to Facebook and Twitter to reveal that they have been victims of sexual assault. In South Africa, many have been shocked to see posts or tweets from friends and colleagues detailing how they were sexually abused or raped.
Singer Jennifer Ferguson dropped a bombshell by claiming she had been raped by a soccer boss 24 years ago in a Port Elizabeth hotel room. We applaud these women, who have found the courage to speak out about their abuse. They have helped to break the debilitating veil of silence and have sent a clear message that they will no longer be silenced.But not all reaction has been positive. Some claim the "hashtag bandwagon" has attracted banal stories of unwanted passes that risk trivialising the suffering of genuine victims of abuse. Others say it is risky for women to make these traumatic statements with no one by their side to offer support. Ferguson, for example, has received hundreds of vulgar and insulting responses to her post. Others have questioned the potential legal implications of naming alleged perpetrators online.Victims of rape and other forms of sexual assault feel they have nowhere else to turn, especially in South Africa. Stats SA's latest Victims of Crime survey shows 50,883 people - most of them women - were sexually assaulted in the 2016-17 financial year.
Yet, according to the latest figures by the Department of Justice, 6,669 cases were finalised in courts during this time, 4,780 of which ended in a conviction. That loosely equates to less than 10% of complaints culminating in conviction. NGOs say that the reasons for this include inefficient or inadequate investigations by police and bungled forensic investigations.
Until the justice system is seen to be taking sexual assault more seriously - committing more resources and expertise to bringing perpetrators to book - and until those perpetrators realise that punishment will be swift and harsh, women will be left with little choice but to seek justice in any way they can.

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