Most rape victims know the rapist

Two thirds of rape and attempted rape victims in Namibia know their perpetrators, a report released ahead of this month's national conference on violence against women and children said.

The report, 'Rape in Namibia', investigated how the promulgation of the Combating of Rape Act seven years ago was working in practice and noted that between 2000 and 2005 99 percent of reported rape victims were women.

"Only twelve percent of the cases clearly involved rapes by strangers," Dianne Hubbard, the report's author and the coordinator of the Gender Research and Advocacy Project of the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC, said at the launch of the study in the capital, Windhoek. "The vast majority of rapes in our study - at least 67 percent - involved persons known to the victim. Most shockingly, about 25 percent of the rapes in the sample involved family members, spouses or intimate partners, including past partners."

"If you say 'no' to sex to your boyfriend, he gets angry, even beats you and then you rather consent," 17-year old Laimi (not her real name), who was raped by her 22-year-old boyfriend, told IRIN.

As a five-year-old child, Laimi witnessed her seven-year-old sister being sexually abused at the family homestead. "It was an uncle from our village. I did not realise what he did then, but felt it was something dirty. My sister cried afterwards."

Reports of rape and attempted rape cases in Namibia doubled from 564 cases in 1991 to 1,184 cases in 2005, the report said, amounting to 60 reported cases per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to 117 per 100,000 in neighbouring South Africa.

The LAC study research was compiled through the scrutiny of police data, 409 crime dockets, 547 rape cases on court registers and interviews with 58 key informants including police officers, prosecutors, lawyers, doctors and rape survivors.

"The increase in the number of reported rapes and attempted rapes could mean an increase in the number of cases being committed or an increase in the number of them reported. It could also be a mixture of these two factors," the study said.

''The vast majority of rapes in our study - at least 67 percent - involved persons known to the victim. Most shockingly, about 25 percent of the rapes in the sample involved family members, spouses or intimate partners''


The upswing in rape cases could also be attributed to the increasing number of police stations established since Namibia's independence in 1990, when 75 stations existed. This number had increased to 106 police stations by 2005, including 26 sub-stations and 15 Woman and Child Protection Units, and meant that it was easier for people to report crimes. About 60 percent of the country's two million people reside in rural areas.

Most rapes (68 percent) were reported promptly and the arrest rate was 70 percent, and served as an illustration that most rapists were known to their victims, the report said, which also said 13 percent of rapists were males under the age of 18.

Conviction rates

Of those arrested for rape, 40 percent resulted in a criminal trial, while one third of reported rape cases were withdrawn by the complainant. One of the reasons cited for withdrawal of charges was that complainants resorted to compensation under customary law, although this action could be pursued in tandem with criminal charges.

The conviction rate of rapists is 16 percent, the report said, which "could be improved but Namibia is doing a much better job than other countries. South Africa only has a 7 percent conviction rate, Germany 21 percent," Hubbard said.

Liz Frank, a gender activist and editor of the monthly magazine Sister Namibia, told IRIN that rape in Namibia was part of the "scarred" legacies of the apartheid system, which ended with independence, and the liberation struggle against it. "The armed struggle with the accompanied violence was regarded as something heroic," she told IRIN. "No proper reconciliation has taken place, wounds are unhealed and society has not worked through the psychological trauma of those periods."

At independence, Frank said, there was very high expectations of jobs, housing and economic benefits, which did not materialise, as the current 36 percent unemployment rate proves. "Women usually have tasks like bringing food daily on the table for the family, looking after the sick, but unemployed men have a lot of frustrations in them as well as young males like school drop outs. Taking 'possession' of the body of a woman or a girl during a rape act, creates a sense of power and being in charge," she said.

Among the report's recommendations was the establishment of victim support programmes, the prioritising on the court roll of rape cases involving children and harsher sentences for rapists if the victims had physical or mental disabilities.

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