What happens to the Perpetrators of Sexual Abuse: Examining the Outcome of Cases heard at Harare Magistrate’s Court, 2013 to 2015.
In June 2014 the former Vice President Joice Mujuru said: “We are declaring war against rape and sexual violence”.
Speaking at the launch of the National Campaign against Rape and Sexual Abuse she also pointed out: “that although Zimbabwe has passed a number of laws ..... gaps still remain in the implementation of these laws and ensuring perpetrators are given deterrent sentences.”
Zimbabwe is noted for the array of strong policy frameworks and institutions that deal with sexual violence ranging from the new Constitution of Zimbabwe, the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act, the Domestic Violence Act, Sexual Offences Act, through to the the Anti Domestic Violence Council, the Adult Rape Clinic, and the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) Victim Friendly Units. Nonetheless, statistics from the Zimbabwe Republic Police indicate that female rape and sexual violence is on the increase. According to ZRP statistics, a total of 3 571 adult women and 7 411 female juveniles were raped from 2012 to the first quarter of 2014.
In addition to the statistical information from the ZRP, it was noted that the number of the number of sexual violence cases being reported in the newspapers had also increased, more cases are being brought before the national courts, and local organisations working on issues related to girls and women are reporting an increase in sexual violence.
Based on this information, the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU) undertook a study to collect data on all cases related to sexual violence heard in the Regional Magistrates Court from December 2013 to May 2015. The aim was to determine the outcome of cases heard in the Court, and to obtain a profile of the complainants and the offenders.
Upon receiving permission from the Judicial Services Commission, RAU was able to access court records from the Regional Magistrates Court and was also allowed to place an officer from RAU, at the Regional Magistrates Court records office for a week, to record the relevant information pertaining to cases involving sexual violence.
From a complete set of 754 records from the Regional Magistrate’s Court, a cleaned set of data was obtained for 623 records: this was 54 from 2013, 399 from 2014, and 176 from 2015. The demographics of the data revealed that 96% of victims of sexual offences were female and 4% of the victims were male. In the majority of cases heard before the courts, the perpetrators were male (99%) with very few female perpetrators (1%). The average age of the victims was 16 years and the average age of the perpetrators was 29 years of age. A majority of the cases seen involved minors, but, whether they were minors or adults, the victims were females.
The data from the Magistrate’s Court shows a preponderance of perpetrators being charged with offences against minors, and a trend towards older perpetrators preying on increasingly younger women, including minors. Apart from the extremely distressing pattern of very old men committing offences against very young girls, there is also a trend in the court statistics for greater percentages of minors being charged with sexual offences, and mostly against much younger girls.
Nature of offences
The nature of offences heard in the courts ranged from rape, attempted rape, accessory to rape, indecent assault, aggravated indecent assault, sexual intercourse with a minor and sexual intercourse with mentally incompetent persons. The court records revealed that rape (86%) was the most common sexual offence that was heard in the Regional Magistrates Court. This was followed by aggravated indecent assault (9.4%), indecent assault (4%) and sexual intercourse with a minor (3.3%). There were very few reported cases of domestic violence in the form of physical abuse (0.5%). When the data was disaggregated according to type of offences between the Under 18 and Over 18 age groups, there was no marked difference from the previous findings; rape came out as the highest reported form of sexual offence in both age groups.
Of the cases that were brought before the Regional Magistrates’ Court for hearing, 40% were handed down with a not guilty verdict, while 26% of the cases were given a guilty verdict. The remaining cases were either declined for prosecution, suspended, withdrawn and referred to court for committal. The status of the other cases that had not yet been completed ranged from further remand refused, accused deceased or the cases were to be continued. However, it should be noted that 57% were either acquitted or had charges withdrawn.
The average length of sentence given to offenders found guilty was 14 years. Magistrates handed out much stiffer sentences to sex offenders over 18 years than to those that were under 18 years. Adult offenders (over 18 years) got sentences of 14 years on average, whilst those under 18 years got sentences of 6 years on average, and very young offenders received corporal punishment, counselling and an option to pay a fine. The exception here for the minor offenders was for stiffer sentences to be imposed where the victim was very young. The profile is thus very similar to what would be seen in most countries: stiffer sentences for more serious offences, and distinctions made between adult and minor offenders.
- The court data clearly shows rape to be the predominant problem of sexual abuse brought to the justice system, with indecent assault and aggravated indecent assault the next most common problem;
- Secondly, the victims are overwhelmingly female and the perpetrators overwhelmingly male;
- Thirdly, there seems to be a very low conviction rate, but this is much higher where the victim is a minor and more so where the minor is very young. The high rates of acquittals deserve careful examination by future research in order to separate out the factors that underpin this trend for adult offenders in the main;
- Fourthly, sentencing seems consonant with best practices. Sentences are generally very severe and appropriate to the circumstances as far as it can be determined from the data. Sentences are much more severe where the victim is a child and the perpetrator is an adult, but also more severe where the perpetrator is a minor and the victim a very young girl.
Finally, it is clear that considerably more research needs to be done in understanding how sexual abuse is being dealt with by the justice system. A beginning would be careful analysis of the court records for all the cases described in this report in order to develop a detailed understanding of the reasons why prosecutions succeed or fail. There is also a need to understand prevalence and incidence of sexual abuse, drawing on the data from both the justice system, describing those that get to court, and the health system, describing those that seek assistance. This will complement the existing survey data.
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