23 May 2007
Gender activists have welcomed the National Assembly’s decision to approve South Africa’s new Sexual Offences Bill, which is set to change the way the country’s courts deal with rape cases – and widens the definition of rape to cover both men and women.
This means that “forced penetration” will be taken to encompass both anal and vaginal penetration, and will include penetration by any object. Forced oral sex will also amount to rape under the new law.
Lisa Vetten of the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre said it was good news that the long-awaited bill, which codifies and modernises South African law relating to sexual offences, was moving again.
However, Vetten warned against seeing the bill as a cure-all for the ills in the criminal justice system in its response to rape.
“Law can’t legislate prescribed attitudes for criminal justice personnel, or single-handedly eradicate prejudice and stereotype,” Vetten said, noting that it was essential that the implementation of the new law be accompanied by training and monitoring.
Vetten added that regulations, as well as a national policy framework, needed to be developed before the bill became fully operational.
The draft law will now go to the National Council of Provinces for approval before it can be signed into law by President Thabo Mbeki.
Meaka Biggs of Cape Town Rape Crisis said the bill was a combination of both shortfalls and shifts for the better.
The bill recognises the inherent vulnerability of children and people with mental disabilities. “Its innovations include the widening of the definition of rape, as well as the introduction of new crimes, particularly in relation to children,” Vetten said.
In addition, the bill clearly defines new crimes such as “trafficking of persons for sexual purposes” and “compelling a person to witness sexual offences”. It also places an obligation on people to report the sexual abuse of a child or mentally disabled person. Failure to do so will constitute a crime.
The new law will allow rape victims to obtain a court order for alleged offenders to undergo compulsory HIV testing and for the results to be revealed to them, and oblige provincial health departments to provide victims with free post-exposure prophylaxis.
The law also provide for a register of sex offenders, a practice already in place in countries such as the United States.