Withdrawn: why complainants withdraw rape cases in Namibia.
Dismissal and nonsuit (Analysis)
Rape victims (Beliefs, opinions and attitudes)
Rape victims (Civil rights)
Women's rights (Management)
|Publication:||Name: Sister Namibia Publisher: Sister Namibia Audience: Academic; General Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences; Women's issues/gender studies Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 Sister Namibia ISSN: 1026-9126|
|Issue:||Date: Dec, 2009 Source Volume: 21 Source Issue: 4-5|
|Topic:||Event Code: 980 Legal issues & crime; 200 Management dynamics Advertising Code: 94 Legal/Government Regulation Computer Subject: Company legal issue; Company business management|
|Product:||Product Code: 9101312 Rape NAICS Code: 92212 Police Protection|
|Geographic:||Geographic Scope: Namibia Geographic Code: 6NAMI Namibia|
Complainants request with-drawals in more than one third of all
rape cases in Namibia. The Gender Research and Advocacy Project at the
Legal Assistance Centre uncovered this fact in its extensive 2006 study
on rape cases in Namibia. To understand the reasons for this, we
conducted a follow-up study on the issue of case withdrawals, collecting
information from focus group discussions and personal interviews in six
regions of Namibia.
The people we spoke to gave 78 different reasons for rape case withdrawals. As one of the participants said, "It's not any one reason that causes a woman to withdraw her rape case, it's the whole process."
Opting for compensation
The most frequently-cited reason for case withdrawal was alternate resolution of the matter by means of compensation. We found that compensation for rape can take different forms. For example, in Ongwediva in the North, compensation is most often paid in the form of livestock, with the intervention of a traditional leader. In Keetmanshoop in the South, compensation is more likely to be paid in cash as a result of negotiations between families.
It is easy to understand why some complainants might prefer to resolve rapes in this way. Our criminal justice system currently offers victims very little in the way of support or compensation, aside from the satisfaction of seeing a criminal put behind bars. Unlike a criminal case which can drag on for years, compensation is speedy and private, and it can give the person who has suffered the wrong a sense that concrete reparation has been made, as well as providing welcome financial assistance.
The problem of coercion
So what is wrong with resolving a rape case in this way? The problem is that complainants are sometimes pressured into accepting compensation against their will, or are sometimes not even involved in the decision. Some women accept compensation because of family pressure, or because they fear that the rapist may harm them. In such cases this choice is not really a choice at all. Others turn to compensation because of poverty. As one participant explained, "a lot of women, they need money for paying the school fees of their children."
While some people see compensation as a respected and legitimate method for resolving a criminal matter, others perceive the acceptance of compensation for a rape as devaluing the seriousness of the crime and even the woman herself. Some viewed it as "buying" the victim's right to prosecute her case, or even buying the right to rape her.
We urge traditional leaders to refuse to sanction exchanges of compensation that are arranged without the personal involvement and unpressurised agreement of the rape victim. We further suggest that the Law Reform and Development Commission consider enacting a law specifically prohibiting "coercive compensation"--to target rapists or anyone who is pressuring complainants to accept money or goods for withdrawing charges.
Allowing the rapist to walk free
Of course, one of the biggest concerns is that compensation does little to prevent repeat rapes since it allows the rapist to walk free. Around the world, studies have shown that rapists have a particular tendency to repeat their crimes. In our study, too, we were told of situations where rapists went on to rape again after their first or second victims withdrew their cases.
We urge police and prosecutors to take a tough line against those who attempt to coerce victims to withdraw their cases, which is a form of obstruction of justice.
Succumbing to shame, fear and intimidation
The next most commonly-cited reasons for rape case withdrawals were family pressure and shame--a sure sign that families and communities are not giving rape victims the support they need and deserve. Are we still blaming the victims for being raped?
The next set of reasons point to failures in some aspects of service delivery. For example, one common concern is threats of physical harm. If an accused rapist who is out on bail is making such threats, this is a basis for revoking bail. If the threat is coming from someone other than the rapist, such as a friend or a family member of the rapist, it is still a crime--this is obstruction of justice. In either case, a credible threat to hurt someone can also be dealt with through a charge of assault.
While the law provides options to address situations where intimidation occurs, in practice rape complainants are still being frightened. Clearly there is a need for rape complainants to have better information on what to do if they receive threats, and a need for prompt and effective follow-up if such threats are reported to police or prosecutors.
Lack of information and trust in the system
Some women reported fears that the rape case will drag on too long, or that they will go through the trauma of a court case and then find that there was not enough evidence for a conviction. These factors point to a need for prompter investigation and prosecution. And again, rape complainants need more information--about what to expect in court, about the realistic chances for a successful prosecution and about the provisions for vulnerable witnesses which can make the court experience less uncomfortable for them.
Some people also expressed a lack of trust in the system--they felt that prosecutors might not try as hard as private defence lawyers to win the case or that police or prosecutors might be bribed to "help out" people they know. People need to know where to complain if they feel something irregular has happened, and about the safeguards which are in place to prevent corruption.
More advice counselling, shelter and support needed
Over 1500 cases of rape or attempted rape are reported each year in Namibia, meaning that literally thousands of women are affected by rape. We as a society can do more to help them.
We recommend that government and civil society work together to establish sustainable victim support programmes to assist complainants before and after the resolution of their rape cases.
Focus group participants indicated that most women know what basic steps to take in the immediate aftermath of a rape--yet few women know how to proceed after the case has been reported, and have no idea where to turn for help in the months and years between the reporting of the case and its ultimate conclusion. Here, we are letting them down.
We need to expand counselling services tied to the Woman and Child Protection Units, so that a social worker, counsellor or community survivor supporter is assigned to every rape complainant at the time the docket is opened. We also suggest requiring the signature of a social worker to finalise a rape complainant's withdrawal statement, as a mechanism to guard against intimidation.
There is a need for more shelters, or other safety nets for rape complainants who are afraid to continue with their cases because of pressure at home or threats of harm from the rapist or his family. Civil society needs to design counselling programmes which connect willing rape complainants with one another for mutual support. We know that Lifeline-Childline is already making exciting efforts to make their counselling services more accessible, while Women's Solidarity provides tremendous support for rape survivors. This is the kind of effort that needs to be supported and expanded.
Materials from the Legal Assistance Centre
As one step towards helping provide more support for rape complainants, the Legal Assistance Centre is pleased to launch, alongside this new study, a pamphlet about case withdrawals which can be provided to rape complainants at all Woman and Child Protection Units. Our goal is to help women who may be feeling traumatised by a rape to make clear and informed choices about whether they want to proceed with their cases, and to try to allay some of their fears.
We have also produced pamphlets and fact sheets in several languages on the basic facts about the law on rape, and these have been converted into posters which can be put up in Woman and Child Protection Units and other public spaces. We hope that these modest contributions will help with the much-needed spread of information.
Dianne Hubbard is Coordinator of the Gender Research and Advocacy Project at the Legal Assistance Centre. For more information, contact email@example.com or Grace Kapere at 061-223356.
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