The horrific rape that occurred in Bredasdorp last week has highlighted yet again the urgency with which we need to act against sexual offences.
One of the critical changes that must be made is the reinstatement of the specialised sexual offences courts, which have fallen away over the last few years.
Whilst this will certainly not solve the rape crisis on its own, it is vital to provide a deterrent to would-be rapists. A clear message must be sent that rapists will be arrested and convicted if they commit this offence.
The conviction rate for sexual offences is appalling. According to its latest Annual Report, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) claims a conviction rate of 65.1%, yet when we consider that 64 415 sexual offences were reported to the police in 2011/12, only 6.9% (4 500) of reported cases resulted in a conviction.
With reports of one rape every four minutes in our country, this cannot be permitted to continue. If people are aware that they stand a very small chance of being apprehended and convicted, they will continue raping with impunity.
The NPA's Sexual Offences Unit itself has also been asking for the return of the specialised courts, and the unit advises that the best way to ensure conviction is through the Thuthuzela Care Centres in combination with the specialised courts. This call has been repeated for at least two years now.
Last year the Minister of Justice commissioned a task team to conduct a study into whether these courts should be reinstated. The report was delayed, and the Minister advised that he would be receiving it by the end of January this year. He should waste no time familiarising himself with the content of the report, and informing the public how he plans to deal with the issue.
We cannot afford to wait any longer. We need action, and we need it now.
Debbie Schafer, Shadow Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development