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Campaign to create awareness on sexual offences law
Saturday 7 May 2005
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SOUTH AFRICA: Campaign to create awareness on sexual offences law

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

©  PlusNews

A rape crisis centre in South Africa

JOHANNESBURG, 6 August (PLUSNEWS) - South African NGOs involved in gender violence issues are to launch a week-long campaign in Johannesburg on Monday to create public awareness around the Sexual Offences Bill, currently before parliament.

"Since the parliament is in session this month, the awareness campaign is also an attempt to lobby for the bill's enactment," Lisa Vetten of the Johannesburg-based Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation told PlusNews.

South Africa has one of the highest incidences of sexual abuse in the world. According to police statistics, 52,107 rapes and attempted rapes were reported in 2002, while a 1999 health department study found that seven percent of women aged between 15 and 49 had been raped or coerced into having sex against their will.

The bill has been delayed for almost five years, said Lawyers for Human Rights gender project coordinator Tizeta Wodajo. "Initially the bill came into being to protect children from rape - it later went on to cover adults."

The NGOs will also attempt to engage the public in a debate around issues contained in the bill, one of which is the definition of rape.

"Currently the definition covers the unlawful sexual penetration of the vagina by a penis - it does not cover digital rape, where the vagina has been penetrated by an object such as a gun barrel, or even anal rape," Wodajo said. The definition also does not cover rape committed by a member of the same sex as the victim.

The other problem with the definition is that the wording "without her consent" in the proposed legislation "places the victim on trial" because she is required to provide physical evidence to prove that the sexual act was committed without her approval. "The woman could have been threatened at gun-point, or the perpetrator could have threatened to kill her family," said Wodajo.

The NGOs have been lobbying for the replacement of "without her consent" with "coercive circumstances," Vetten said.

Attempts are also being made to include sexual acts committed by people aware of being HIV positive without disclosing their status to their partners as violations.

"We are supporting the NGOs' attempts to create public awareness around the bill," said a spokesman for the ministry of justice, Kaizer Kganyago. "Ultimately it is the parliament which will decide on the bill and we cannot put pressure [on it]."


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