The Women’s Legal Centre, People Opposing Women’s Abuse, the Teddy Bear Clinic for abused children, the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre to end violence against women and girls, and the GRIP Rape Prevention Programme are dismayed to learn of the reduced sentence for the perpetrator of multiple rapes of an 11 year old victim, in the North Gauteng High Court. The life sentence of Molefe Joseph Mphanama, who repeatedly raped an 11-year-old girl he regarded as “a daughter”, was reduced to 20 years on appeal by the High Court in Pretoria on 25 July 2014, because she seemed to be a “willing partner”.
The court accepted the state’s arguments that the young girl had been sexually groomed by Mphanama, but when it came to sentencing, acting Judge Mushasha stated that he was “concerned about the conduct” of the girl victim, which was a mitigating factor in favour of Mphanama. An example of this conduct cited by the Judge was that she opened the window for Mphanama, and “only” showed her unwillingness to have sex by closing her thighs. Judge Khumalo agreed with Judge Mushasha’s reasoning.
“It is of serious concern when the judge’s reasoning perpetuates the stereotypes around sexual violence that many organisations (and we hope government) are trying to dispel. It shows that the transformation of the judiciary requires more than increasing the number of women on the bench. It requires a transformation of the stereotypical paternalistic thinking which is entrenched in many of our male judges. This judgment shows how this kind of thinking severely infringes the rights of the girl child and removes the little trust she may have had in the judicial system to protect her. It is totally unacceptable,” said Shireen Motara, Director of the Women’s Legal Centre
“We are extremely concerned about this judgment, and believe it must be appealed. The reasoning employed by the court amounts to a species of victim blaming, and was pursued despite the absence of a victim impact statement,” said Sanja Bornman, attorney at the Women’s Legal Centre.
Barbara Kenyon from GRIP said, “We are outraged by the decision. The age of consent is 16 years, and children below 12 cannot consent to sexual contact with adults. The prosecution authority must appeal.”
Shaheda Omar of the Teddy Bear Clinic said, “The burden of responsibility here is being shifted to the child, where in actual fact it should be the responsibility of the adult to protect children. This is a clear case of exploitation, and child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome, which could account for a child victim’s secrecy, helplessness, entrapment and accommodation, delayed disclosure and retraction.”
Shereen Mills of the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre (TLAC) said, “After all the work women’s violence organisations have done to educate and eradicate patriarchal attitudes that blame the victim of rape for her rape, it is of extreme concern that this kind of deluded, discriminatory reasoning can be applied by our judiciary to the rape of an 11-year old girl child. The sexist stereotypes that underlie this judgment serve not only to reinforce women and girl children’s unequal status, but also to normalize men’s continued violence against the most vulnerable in our society.”
The following additional organisations endorse the call on the Director of Public Prosecutions to appeal the sentence:
- Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust
- Ekupholeni Mental Health and Trauma Center
- Women and Men Against Children Abuse
- Project Empower
- Masimanyane Support Centre
- Justice and Women
- Childline South Africa
The Women’s Legal Centre has also started a public petition to call on the Director of Public Prosecutions to appeal the sentence, and members of the public can sign this petition electronically here.
For more information, contact:
SHIREEN MOTARA – 021 424 5660
SHAHEDA OMAR – 011 484 4554/4539
BARBARA KENYON – 013 752 4404
VINCENTIA DLAMINI NGOBESE – 082 896 9840