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Opinion / Columnist

Rape allegations must be handled responsibly

04 Feb 2019 at 08:31hrs | Views
As a lawyer, I have handled many rape cases in several countries where I have worked, including in international criminal tribunals. I was a trial attorney in the first "rape as a crime against humanity" trial in East Timor. I was at the UN when it dealt with the sexual crimes in the eastern DRC. For that reason, I can confidently say a thing or two about this subject.

Sexual crimes in any event or context are heinous, but those committed by security forces under circumstances of siege or conflict are the worst kind. You need to understand the nature of this particular crime before saying how victims should and should not react. Rape or sexual abuse is dehumanising, it kills self-esteem, leaves a sense of worthlessness, fear, anger, shame and painful physical scars. A victim of sexual violence can decide, for all these reasons, not to report the crime for decades or even ever. There are victims who have never told anyone. It does not mean they were not raped.

What is not helpful is to flippantly question the validity of rape allegations without seriously investigating them. Besides being callous, it serves to re-victimise and drive victims underground. Let victims report in their own time and sense of comfort, confidence and security. Some may never. The crimes have ALLEGEDLY just occurred. The cardinal rule is- respect a person who alleges sexual violence, provide immediate medical and psycho-social support and counselling, secure the evidence of the crime, create conditions for their safety including from further abuse, give them back control of their lives, assure them of confidentiality. Expecting people to come on social media or TV is not one of them. Expecting them to even go to the police, or the same military that is alleged to have violated them is even more preposterous. Also, whilst some victims generally want to speak out about what has happened to them, some will not talk because they are threatened with further rapes and almost in every case with death if they do. Many fear the shame, rejection and ostracisation that may follow from their families, communities and society.

This a complex crime which needs careful and responsible handling. Some are questioning the allegations of rape by the military in Zimbabwe, without even having an idea of the still unresolved but horrendous Gukurahundi rapes, which were committed by the military. When those come out, because the evidence is there, including children from whom DNA can be obtained, what will they say? The military in Zimbabwe has a documented history of committing mass rapes. I would sooner believe a woman who alleges rape than them. No spinning or denial will change that.

Source - Online
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