Why life sentences aren't the solution to SA's rape crisis

South Africa's criminal justice system needs to work harder in its fight against the scourge of rape in the country.

But the solution to this cannot be as simplistic as life sentences for rapists, says gender activist and researcher Lisa Vetten.

South African courts have handed a number of life sentences for rapists and child rapists in recent weeks.

As encouraging as that may be, the reality remains that the proportion of rapes being prosecuted in South Africa is staggeringly low.

According to Vetten, the average conviction rate for rape in the country is at 7%.

That's why, she says, the focus should be shifted away from harsher sentences towards more solid investigations and witness preparation to ensure court-ready cases.

RELATED: Police task team on SA femicide long overdue, says activist Lisa Vetten

Sentencing is the very last stage in the process... We need to be putting our energy into looking at how to improve police investigations, especially in stranger rape cases.

Lisa Vetten, Research associate - Wits Institute For Social Economic Research (Wiser)

[We need to put our energy into] how we get cases to court, how we get cour ready, how we prepare witnesses given the necessary support and how we get prosecutors to do the best they can to result in a conviction.

Lisa Vetten, Research associate - Wits Institute For Social Economic Research (Wiser)

It's the likelihood of being caught and convicted, rather than the small chance of a very long life sentence, that is going to act as a deterrent.

Lisa Vetten, Research associate - Wits Institute For Social Economic Research (Wiser)

Vetten explains that all rape cases should result in life sentences in the following instances:

  • if a child is raped
  • if a victim is raped multiple times
  • if multiple victims are raped
  • if the perpetrator is HIV +
  • if the victim is more than 60
  • if a weapon is used
  • if there is a gang rape

Listen to the in-depth discussion on the criminal justice system and gender-based violence:


This article first appeared on CapeTalk : Why life sentences aren't the solution to SA's rape crisis


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