Rape: Counting the costs

THEIR motive is unknown, but their actions have left a trail of destruction and tears on the cheeks of many as they prey on both newly-born babies and older women.

Rapists have been despised by many and the law frowns upon their actions, with Women’s Affairs minister Sithembiso Nyoni recently saying there was a spike in the cases during the Covid-19 induced lockdown after 1 274 cases were reported in the last quarter of 2020.

With statistics showing that at least 22 women are raped daily, the Adult Rural Clinic (ARC) told the Daily News recently of disturbing cases that they handle.

“We regard every case that walks through our door as a traumatic experience. There are quite a lot because of the confidentiality of our work I cannot really disclose those. But maybe just to paint a picture that the youngest person that we have assisted was two days old, the oldest one was more than 80 years old,” ARC director Memory Kadau said.

“Sometimes you have survivors coming already infected with HIV, which is always heart-breaking for us because we know if you come early and seek medical care, we can prevent HIV infection and the same goes with unwanted pregnancy.”

ARC addresses issues of sexual violence in the country and its core business is to provide medical, legal and psycho-social support services to survivors of sexual assault, including the provision of post-exposure prophylaxes to mitigate the risk of contracting HIV.

Kadau said her organisation also provides emergency contraceptive pills to prevent unwanted pregnancies as well as HIV testing and counselling as rape was both physically and psychologically traumatic.

“It’s a very difficult process or incident that can happen to anyone that could be perpetrated by anyone, so we always believe that if a person is raped they have suffered a traumatic experience which has a potential to alter their course of lives and the potential to change how they engage in relationships,” she said.

She said rape results in victims having trust issues and changes the manner in which they relate with people of the opposite sex, adding that the medical effects also include sexually transmitted infections, such as syphilis and herpes.

“Physical effects may include death or injury. Thirty percent of women are murdered by intimate partners, according to the UN Women research statistics. These physical effects also include genital and non-genital injuries which could be cuts, sometimes gunshot wounds, cigarette burns and any wound that you can think of or injury suffered when the survivor or victim has tried to resist or fight back.

“The psychological effects of rape include mental and emotional, this can be depression, it can be alcohol and drug use problems, as victims try to cope with this trauma that they would have experienced. They can just start experiencing emotional challenges and instability … as a result of rape,” she said.

Rape also has social effects, as victims suffer stigmatisation, which has resulted in some ending up feeling uncomfortable to report the abuse, especially that which is perpetrated by close people.

“There is a lot of judgment that comes from society and victim blaming  that we always see in Zimbabwe, where people start asking what were you doing there, what was she wearing, what did she say?

“Sometimes sexual activity becomes a condition to negative issues … There are also similar cases where a person who is hyper sexualised engages in risk sexual behaviours because of this traumatic experience,” Kadau said.

According to Fathers Against Abuse (Faa), an organisation which focuses on rape as well as educating the boy child and men on the need to respect the social being of women and girls, a number of cases were going unreported.

Faa founder and team leader Alois Nyamazana said there was need for communities to activate dependable report structures such as families, communities and churches to deal with the scourge.

“We need to create a supportive environment for the victims to report their cases. I strongly believe that there are several cases of rape that go unreported in communities because normally rape occurs within the family setup where the perpetrator may be a very respected family person and because people want to preserve and maintain the relationship they try to then sweep the issues under the carpet.

“As Faa, we then want to talk to fathers, men and boys to then ensure that they also play a critical role at family level and even at community level to facilitate reporting of cases of sexual assault,” Nyamazana told the Daily News.

Women’s rights organisation, Musasa Project, recently advocated for a minimum mandatory sentence of between 30 and 60 years on rape perpetrators, saying this would help deter would-be offenders.

“We believe that putting a minimum sentence will serve as a deterrent to would-be perpetrators because they would know if I do this they might go for 30 or 60 years. It also serves to educate the people, once you put a minimum sentence on something people can be educated because as it is due to the toxic cultural practices, the toxic religious practices people actually think you can get away with rape,” Musasa Project advocacy officer Rotina Mafume Musara said.

“At least we want to see that commitment from the powers that be to put that minimum mandatory sentence. And again we are saying we are giving the magistrates too much room to decide over this issue.”

Nyamazana echoed Musara’s sentiments adding that there should be a minimum mandatory sentence for rape as well as the need to expedite the process of sentencing once a person is convicted of this offence.

“The penalty should be very punitive; it should show the gravity of this case. I think rape is one of those cases where a person shouldn’t be allowed to apply for bail. The perception people have in communities once a person has been given bail, automatically means that the community then even starts to doubt the reporting process itself. Was it worth reporting in the first place? Imagine a person who sexually assaulted a young girl is walking in the streets and that person is meeting the girl on a daily basis, to me that’s inhuman,” Nyamazana said.

“We need to talk about mandatory sentencing and I am happy that Musasa Project has already advocated for that and we are actually supporting that as Fathers Against Abuse … Not only mandatory sentencing, but we also need to expedite the process of sentencing, it shouldn’t take long for a person to be convicted of rape so it is also critical. 

“What I would like to say is that if you look at stock theft it has got very clear regulations. If you steal a cow for example you have to spend at least nine years in jail for just one beast but that is not happening in rape cases.”