Poor handling of rape, sexual abuse cases defeats fight against the twin evils

FIGURES from the Zimbabwe National Statistics (ZimStat) indicate that at least 15 women are raped every day in the country.

Phillip Chidavaenzi

Although some of the culprits have been successfully prosecuted and thrown behind bars, sometimes, even for over 20 years, others have walked free after fighting the criminal charges. Their acquittal, however, was not so much influenced by their innocence, but lack of sufficient evidence to nail them down.

The absence of forensic investigations — including DNA testing — has seen many rape suspects getting off the hook due to lack of evidence, and Harare West MP Jessie Majome (MDC-T) is passionate about redress of this deficiency in the country’s legal system.

“The whole idea of investigating is to secure evidence to pin down an offender. With the use of rape kits, you can’t go wrong on the issue of identity,” she told NewsDay.

The former Women’s Affairs deputy minister said the criminal registration book at the Harare Regional Court showed that most of the rape cases brought before the court failed.

“The bulk of the cases failed in prosecution,” she said. “The suspects got off the hook because the cases were either withdrawn or the witnesses ended up not speaking due to fear.”

Many rape victims, apart from often reporting the abuses late when most of the critical evidence would have been erased, have also suffered injustice at the hands of the justice delivery system, which is often ill-equipped to collect relevant evidence.

Rape, violence against women on the increase

Police officer commanding Harare, Senior Assistant Commissioner Clemence Munoriarwa, recently said at least 400 children were raped, while 392 female adults were abused, in 2013 alone.

Although the rape statistics represented a decrease from the 2012 figures, they were still worryingly too high.


“We have to do certain things right as Zimbabweans,” Munoriarwa said. “We just have to go back to our culture, to basics and respect our children.”

Munoriarwa said statistics from 2013 painted a disturbing picture of growing violence against women and children. He said the police, recorded 792 cases of violations against women and children.

But the statistics, according to women groups and the police, could be understated as many cases go unreported due to the nature of the country’s conservative social structure and make-up.

Some of the perpetrators have been arrested and have their cases pending before the courts, while others were on the run.

“In some cases, we have a father raping his own daughter — it is very saddening and worrying. People are driven to extremes by traditional healers that raping a minor will cure HIV and Aids which is scientifically wrong,” he said.

In November last year, a statement by the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe — an umbrella body representing more than 200 women’s rights groups — called on Zimbabweans to use the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence to denounce all forms of gender-based violence (GBV).

The group expressed alarm at the “increasing cases of gender-based violence in the country” where “68% of women have experienced some form of violence”.

Musasa Project, one of the first groups to provide counselling
and temporary shelter to women survivors of domestic violence, is recording an average of 300 cases of violence against women each month.
Musasa Project director Netty Musanhu was quoted saying the figures were worrying.

“The statistics gathered through cases reported to us, the police and the courts are very worrying and indicate an increase in the number of women and girls being raped.

“So we are using these 16 Days to urge everyone to reflect on what these numbers really mean and represent.

“Does it mean that as a society we have lost our values when newspapers frequently carry reports of babies being raped?”

Realignment of laws needed

Majome said it was important for relevant government ministries to present a Memoranda of Bills to Parliament amending pieces of law that deal with violence and rape such as the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act and Marriages Act.

“This will effect the necessary changes to that and will set stiffer sentences for offenders, curb GBV and provide support for survivors,” she said.

She said it was disappointing that the National Gender-Based Strategy (2012-2015) was yet to be implemented and she would push for it.

Musanhu said it was not helpful to have a raft of watertight pieces of legislation that were, however, not enforced.

“But good laws are useless if they do not translate to positive action. The paltry sentences given to sexual violence perpetrators are a case in point,” she said.

Unavailability, poor handling of rape kits

Majome said while there have been shortages of rape kits at police stations, the country had not done any DNA testing since 2009.

It was established during a Victim Friendly Court stakeholder meeting held in September last year in Gwanda that the widespread shortage of rape kits at the country’s police stations has resulted in victims being denied justice while perpetrators remained free.

A rape kit contains instruments that are used by a doctor to obtain swabs and slides, blood, saliva, pubic hair, fingernails and scrappings from rape victims which are sent for forensic tests to identify perpetrators and the results are used as evidence in court.

A Victim Friendly Unit officer at Gwanda Police Station, Sergeant Tonderai Matara, said they were operating with only one rape kit which was currently at the Police Forensic Laboratory in Harare.

“Gwanda has one rape kit which was sent last week to the forensic lab in Harare and we are trying to get more kits,” Matara said.

“Currently the lab has a backlog and it takes three to four months for results to be released.”

Harare provincial magistrate Douglas Vakayi Chikwekwe told the meeting that there was need for authorities to ensure that rape kits were always available at police stations across the country considering the surge in rape cases.

Majome accused the government of not fulfilling its obligations in effectively dealing with cases of sexual abuse and leaving the burden to non-governmental organisations.

“We should not rely on NGOs. NGOs must only support government. But it’s unfortunate that government does not have even a single shelter for rape survivors,” she said.

Majome, however, said she was happy that government was heeding her call for stiffer sentences for GBV way before her motion in Parliament to that effect had been passed.

Presenting a motion where she was calling for stiffer penalties for perpetrators of GBV in Parliament, Majome called on government to equip police stations with forensic rape kits.

“Rapists get off the hook because we continue to use poor, primitive and inefficient investigation methods when dealing with rape cases,” she told the House.

“We do not use scientific evidence such as DNA and we overly rely on viva voce evidence and the evidence of witnesses.”

Majome said because there were instances when victims got threatened by the perpetrators or failed to accurately relate events leading to the rape, rapists were walking scot-free.

“Sometimes they will not be believed for all sorts of reasons,” she said.

The Zimbabwe Republic Police reported that between January and October 2013, 3 421 rape cases were reported to the police while Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri last year revealed that the ZRP had recorded a 6% increase in the rape of juveniles and 3% among adults.

The Director of Public Prosecution in November last year advised that his department had handled 1 059 rape cases.

“We have a weak legislative and legal response to rape and other forms of GBV. Rape is notorious for being one of those most under-reported crimes where less than 20% of any of the rapes that occur are ever reported,” Majome said.

According to the country’s first Violence Against Women Baseline survey, 68% of the 3 326 women interviewed admitted having experienced some form of violence in their lifetime, while 46% of the 3 274 men said they had perpetrated some form of violence in their lifetime.

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