Rape survivors in Namibia face further trauma after entering the justice system, as well as stigma, humiliation and victim blaming by the families of the perpetrators and communities.
08 September 2020 | Crime
The manner in which the police investigate the thousands of rape cases that pile up each year, as well as a lack of trust in the justice system, could be some of the reasons why victims and their families want to withdraw charges, says the gender and child protection specialist in the Office of the First Lady, Dr Veronica Theron.
Theron said other factors include delays in making an arrest, stigma, humiliation and victim blaming by the families of the perpetrators and communities.
Police inspector-general Sebastian Ndeitunga confirmed last year that a total of 3 164 rape cases were reported between 2016 and 2018.
Theron was responding to a recent report about a 14-year-old mentally challenged girl from Rundu's Kaisosi location, who was allegedly repeatedly raped for months by 12 boys. Her family said they were willing to withdraw the charges after the families of the suspects apologised to them. The alleged rapes occurred between 23 December 2019 and 13 May 2020, when the girl finally spoke out.
“It is very common for a family or even the survivors themselves to want to withdraw charges of rape for various reasons, such as the manner in which the police treated the survivor and family when they reported the case,” Theron said.
“Delays in arresting the perpetrator; in many cases the perpetrator is not arrested at all. Perpetrators get bail easily and the message to survivors is that the court does not see the rape charges as serious. Many survivors feel it is all about the rapist's rights and not about their rights. Families lose trust in the criminal justice system processes. “The delays between reporting a case and finalising the court case... Postponements in cases; some cases can take up to six years before trial... Multiple investigating officers, social workers, prosecutors... and survivors cannot move on with their lives. “Other reasons can be the stigma, humiliation and victim blaming by families of perpetrators and communities; some families experience threats of violence. The families of perpetrators may offer compensation. The families may want to protect their loved ones from the traumatic court proceedings such as harsh cross-examination, insensitive or inexperienced prosecutors and magistrates.
“People in rural areas believe that a court case will not solve the problem; they rather agree with the family of the perpetrators to pay compensation - monetary or in kind,” Theron added.
Police spokesperson, Deputy Commissioner Kauna Shikwambi, responded by saying that rape charges are viewed as a very sensitive, serious and a horrifying violation of personal dignity and integrity, especially when it is done to an innocent child.
“As such, it often makes the complainant/rape survivor feel isolated or they may develop feelings of anxiety, guilt and inadequacy… once cases of this nature are reported, investigative steps, moving from evidence gathering to information analysis to validation of information and evidence has to be followed, and finally to the arrest and charging of a suspect,” Shikwambi said. She added these investigative action steps vary from case to case and arrests are evidence-based.
“The immediate availability or further search and subsequent arrest of the suspect is very critical here. Therefore, in our opinion, there are no delays in affecting the arrest if all relevant evidence is obtained or provided by the complainant or victim of rape.” “One thing I want to emphasise is that it must be known that the withdrawing of cases cannot be pinned on the police alone, because the complainant/victim may submit his/her withdrawal statement, indicating that he/she does not wish the case to continue for reasons known to themselves, and as it is known, most rape cases are committed by perpetrators known to the victims.
“So, victims withdraw cases due to the protection of the family name, victimisation, gradual law processes, etc. Rape cases are of a sensitive nature and the Namibian police treat them as such,” Shikwambi said.
“The public is reminded that the Namibian police have a responsibility to assist victims in the most professional manner. To achieve this, we partner with social workers to support the emotional/investigation aspect of these cases. We are therefore pleading with the public and victims of these cases to assist the police by providing correct and truthful information on time to speed up investigations.”
No to withdrawal
When asked about the fact that the parents of the 14-year-old complainant are willing to withdraw the case, Theron said the idea should not be entertained.
She also said the Combating of Rape Act makes provision for a police officer or social worker to act as a complainant in the case.
“The court should not withdraw the case of a minor child. Gang rape is a serious offence and should be treated as such. In this case, there are many factors to consider, such as the fact that it was 12 alleged offenders and it was a repeat offence,” she further explained.
“Theron suggested that the police and the social worker should investigate why the family wants to withdraw the case.
“Social workers and the police must investigate the reasons why the parents want to withdraw and act in the interest of the minor child and the family as a whole. We need to educate the public on the long-term effects of such behaviour on a child and her family,” she said.
Theron said the girl should be referred to a psychiatrist for a proper assessment. She said experts can determine the difference between a person's chronological and mental age and treat her according to her mental capacity.
“They can determine if the survivor would be able to testify in a court of law or not and submit such a report to court.
“They can also ascertain if the mental problem is mild, moderate or severe. Depending on the outcome, mental health professionals can develop an intervention plan to best assist the minor,” she said. She also said that the parents must make sure the child receives optimal medical treatment such as an HIV test and STI screening.