KHOPOTSO: About one in five inmates held at Boksburg Youth Centre, on the East Rand, say they feel unsafe at the facility. This is according to a survey of some 300 offenders released recently. Sexual violence from fellow inmates is one of the fears of these young men. But researchers have found that many rape survivors would rather not report the crime. Sasha Gear is a Senior Researcher with the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR).
SASHA GEAR: There’s so much stigma related if you’re a man who has been raped. For example, you are viewed as having lost your manhood and often the victim carries that sense very profoundly. We know that that’s what keeps a lot of people who have been raped sort of suffering in silence. There are also fears of further victimisation.
KHOPOTSO: The finding suggests that sexual violence in the institution is rife.
SASHA GEAR: Almost 1 in 3 of the young men said that they had had sex with someone either inside or outside of prison, despite knowing that that person did not want to have sex with them’¦ Five respondents admitted to having forced another inmate to have sex in prison, while 17 or 5% said that they had tricked or manipulated or threatened another prisoner into having sex. We also found that gang members were more likely to have tricked or manipulated another prisoner into having sex than non-gang members’¦
KHOPOTSO: Tricking or manipulating one into sex could include offering them something ‘ protection, food or even a cigarette. The recipient, however, wouldn’t be aware that they would have to pay back by way of providing sex against their will.
SASHA GEAR: There’s no doubt in our minds that that constitutes rape.
KHOPOTSO: These offences, says Gear, are often not reported as there is a feeling among rape survivors that officials will not respond properly to their complaints.
SASHA GEAR: Staff are not appropriately responding when they are aware of this happening. Sometimes they will be bribed into just keeping quiet about it so that the perpetrator is not punished and can continue raping others. They might also just choose to turn a blind eye’¦ We see the sort of complicit involvement of staff in those ways, particularly. And that really does need to be addressed.
KHOPOTSO: A quarter of respondents who had not reported being raped said that they did not because they didn’t think that reporting would not make any difference. One in five said that they had been afraid to report it for fear of further victimisation. Just under a quarter of the assailants had been punished and more than half were apparently not punished. Gustav Wilson is Director of the HIV/AIDS programme at the national Department of Correctional Services.
GUSTAV WILSON: First and foremost, I think the whole notion that ‘DCS ignores it or does not do anything about it,’ is not being put in(to) perspective’¦ We experience a low reporting rate for the very reasons indicated in the research, such as the fear of retaliation by the perpetrator… So, yes, it is so. However, that’s why we encourage offenders who are being assaulted that they report it so that something can be done about it’¦ There are mechanisms being put in place ‘ they’re either be then isolated or certain security measures are being put in place to ensure that they are not being assaulted further or that they are being exposed to such situations.
KHOPOTSO: Over-crowding in South African correctional facilities, however, does not always allow for inmates at risk of sexual assault to be isolated to ensure their safety. At the Boksburg Youth Centre, there was also the problem of adult prisoners ‘ up to the age of 29 ‘ sharing the facility with young inmates. The centre is meant to hold offenders up to the age of 22. In-house disciplinary procedures for sex offenders do not exist. The sexual violence that occurs in male prisons makes correctional centres a perfect breeding ground for HIV infection. Because of this, says Gustav Wilson, prisoners are given information to help protect themselves from possible sexual victimisation as well as HIV infection.
GUSTAV WILSON: When they are admitted’¦ offenders have been informed that such activities are taking place’¦ What happens is that they will be given information on HIV and AIDS’¦ We do provide, if they report, then they would be immediately provided with post-exposure prophylaxis as soon as possible or as has been prescribed in the guidelines within 72 hours. And that is available on-site. In the event where it’s not available on-site they will be referred to the nearest health facility, externally, to obtain it. But we have approved guidelines in accordance to the guidelines and protocols of the Department of Health that we follow in ensuring that we administer, upon reporting of such incidents, PEP treatment.
KHOPOTSO: However, according to the study conducted at the Boksburg Youth Centre, only 12% of the respondents said they received such information. The rest said they didn’t.