Trafficking is alive and well in SA, but we shouldn’t forget other rapes

By Jen Thorpe

Last night I attended the LexisNexis screening of a documentary called ‘Redlight’ about human trafficking for sexual purposes in Cambodia. The documentary followed three stories of young girls that had been trafficked, and had escaped the traffickers and returned home. Some had been kidnapped, and others sold by their parents. The girls were between 8 and 12 when they were trafficked, and the documentary caught up with them when they were all younger than sixteen.

I felt uncomfortable with the way that these young women were interviewed – one had only been rescued two days earlier and was clearly traumatised, and still in need of some private time to process what had happened to her. Another girl who was sold by her mother, was forced to talk with her mother who said that she would do the same again, on camera. In my opinion it was exploitation of these young women’s stories to prove a point that we know already – trafficking is wrong and has devastating effects on those involved.

What was really great about the evening was the panel discussion afterwards. Panelists included Advocate Thoko Majokweni (National Director of Public Prosecution: Sexual Offences and Community Affairs), Advocate Beatri Kruger (Professor at the Department of Criminal and Medical Law, UFS), Thora Mansfield (Director and Founder of Open Door Crisis Centre) and Marcel van der Watt (Lecturer at UNISA: Crimes against women and children and human trafficking). They discussed the reality of trafficking in South Africa, and argued that it was more prevalent than we know.

Currently there is a trafficking bill on the cards before Parliament, but sensibly no new law will be passed before a costing is done.  So now it will be up to the relevant govt departments to include their estimated costs for this problem, before the law will be passed. According to this panel, trafficking is happening in South Africa. Van Der Watt said that “human commodities as young as ten are being sold for as little as R2000” within our cities.

I completely agree that trafficking is a sensitive crime – the survivors are often reluctant to testify because of the stigma they face from their communities, their trauma, and because of trafficking is normally linked to incredibly powerful members of organised crime. Sometimes survivors are not from the country they are trafficked to – Advocate Majokweni said that in South Africa the highest percentages of trafficked people came from India and Thailand. In addition the perpetrators are not always from the country in which the crime is perpetrated. You need johns to testify that they bought the trafficked person. It is complex, and I am 100% for the thorough investigation and prosecution of this crime, and for the psychosocial and medical support (many are addicted to drugs as a result of being trafficked) of the survivors. The solution requires a multi-disciplinary approach, and requires all stakeholders to work together. This is indisputable.

What I am concerned about is the prioritisation of particular types of rape over others. All sexual offences require a multi-disciplinary response and support for survivors. All sexual offences cause severe trauma to survivors – in fact, many survivors suffer from Rape Trauma Syndrome which includes behavioural, physical and psychological symptoms.

The legislation that exists on sexual offences is comprehensive, but is not being implemented effectively. The policy framework for this legislation was due in 2009 and has not yet been published, though it is the process of being put through parliament.

Survivors cannot expect standardised services from criminal justice system officials – the services vary from day to day, from site to site. Remedying this problem should be priority.  Ensuring that this legislation is costed for the relevant departments and budget is allocated in order to allow it to be applied should be priority.

When you sell someone to someone else to have sex with, that is rape. When you steal someone away from their home that is kidnapping. When you beat someone you have stolen that is assault GBH.  When children are forced to commit sexual acts, there are even more substantial laws. These crimes exist already, and there are clear laws and policies about what to do with perpetrators and victims. Something that would be useful for South Africa to do would be to criminalise South Africans who commit trafficking, or buy trafficked people in other countries.

We cannot prioritise certain victims of sexual offences, and pit them against one another in terms of access to services. We need specialised, good services to all survivors across the country.


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