Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition)

Row over registry for rapists

Public sex offenders’ list ‘ may not deter criminals’

- KASHIEFA AJAM kashiefa.ajam@inl.co.za

RAPISTS, child rapists and molesters are about to lose their anonymity. They might even lose their lives too – but it won’t help turn the tide on the tsunami of sexual violence affecting South Africa’s women and children.

That’s the view of a range of local experts following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announceme­nt this week of the government’s intention to amend the existing sex crime legislatio­n in the country.

The bill to amend the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) will create a new offence of sexual intimidati­on, widen the ambit for the offence of incest and increase the duty on people to report their suspicions when they suspect a child has been sexually assaulted.

Most importantl­y, the National

Research shows this will not deter sex offenders from re- offending

Shaheda Omar


Register for Sex Offenders will also be expanded to include the particular­s of all sex offenders – and made public.

Until now, the register has only applied to sex offenders convicted of sex crimes perpetrate­d against children or people with mental disabiliti­es. If the amendment is passed, an offender will have to disclose that they are on the register whenever they apply to work with people who are vulnerable.

Women and child rights activists applauded the president this week, but warned that making the register public would not deter sexual offenders. But it would probably encourage mob justice and vigilantis­m because of the failure of the justice system to quickly and efficientl­y prosecute, convict and jail criminals.

Luke Lamprecht, child protection and developmen­t specialist and advocacy manager at Women & Men Against Child Abuse, said making the register public would allow parents to vet the people who work with their children, an important developmen­t in a country where many sex offenders have gone on to prey on children all over again with devastatin­g consequenc­es.

“But the argument against it is that people could take it upon themselves to take the offender out. Historical­ly that’s how we work. When people don’t get justice, they take justice into their own hands. Our system is so deeply flawed there is certainly that risk.”

Gender activist and researcher Lisa Vetten said making the register public would satisfy those wanting to see sex offenders publicly shamed after serving their sentences, but it was unlikely to make people feel safer knowing whose names are on that list.

“A minority of men arrested for rape – approximat­ely 30% – have previous conviction­s, but only 5% of all men arrested have previous conviction­s for rape. We ought to be paying much more attention to those who have been convicted of murder, housebreak­ing and robbery – but they will never be on a sex offenders register.”

Vetten said Megan’s Law, implemente­d in the mid-1990s in the US to make sex offenders’ details public, was found to have had no impact in reducing sex crimes when evaluated 10 years later.

“The researcher­s concluded that the cost of making names public far outweighed the negligible benefits of public notificati­on and that the money spent on this measure would be better spent on other things. I strongly suspect we will be drawing exactly the same conclusion­s in South Africa in a few years’ time,” said Vetten.

Shaheda Omar, director at the Teddy Bear Clinic, called the decision to make the register public a “Band-Aid”. “The research shows this will not deter sex offenders from re-offending. I applaud the president for trying to do the right thing, but is this the right thing? We’re treating a symptom. This huge problem must be unpacked at its root levels.”

South Africa currently had two registers, she said: the Sex Offenders Register and the Child Protection Register, both administer­ed by the Department of Social Developmen­t, neither of which was even functionin­g properly.

“We can’t use Covid as an excuse for why we have been hampered in our efforts to curb sexual violence. It’s a long-standing problem. We know the register is inadequate. There are convicted people we know are not even on that register.

“Then there is the Child Protection Register. There are extensive budgets and resources allocated to those registers. We need to work out why we have two registers and how they can function and be in sync,” Omar said.

Dr Joan van Niekerk, child rights and protection consultant, said the public register could be high risk because of the rate of vigilantis­m in South African, but in practice it would be relatively useless.

“The message needs to go out that the best way of keeping your child safe is parental vigilance.

“Young children should always be under a responsibl­e adult eye – physically. Older children need to be aware of general safety messages, of which sexual safety is one.”

She said the register would be “relatively useless in practice”.

“Only a minuscule percentage of offenders are placed on the register – if 1 in 9 victims report and on that figure alone there is a 6% conviction rate, then the percentage is substantia­lly less than 1%.

“Furthermor­e, with high levels of corruption, one can possibly buy a new identity – use a pseudonym, etc when one moves. Not only are the registers poorly managed, few offenders comply with sending new addresses to the registrar,” she said.

 ?? BRENDAN MAGAAR African News Agency (ANA) ?? PROTESTERS outside Bellville Magistrate’s Court yesterday. They demanded that a husband accused of killing his wife, Nosicelo Tsipa, in Fisantekra­al, be denied bail. See pages 6 and 8
BRENDAN MAGAAR African News Agency (ANA) PROTESTERS outside Bellville Magistrate’s Court yesterday. They demanded that a husband accused of killing his wife, Nosicelo Tsipa, in Fisantekra­al, be denied bail. See pages 6 and 8 |

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