ATTORNEY GENERAL Faris Al Rawi recently gave some startling statistics in the Senate. From the year 2000 to date, there have been 13,630 sexual offences cases brought before the courts. Yet, only 321 – or approximately two per cent – have resulted in convictions. These figures should make us confront some harsh truths about our criminal justice system as well as the society in which that system operates. Not only must detection be improved, but our attitudes to sex, sexuality and gender must change.
Admittedly, the figures given are difficult to analyse because sexual offences come in wide variety of forms. They can involve a range of non-consensual sexual acts, not limited to sexual intercourse. And they can be committed alongside other grievous offences. The context of sexual offences also varies widely. For example, some cases come amid long histories of domestic violence, others might involve date rape.
The wide area of the sample (almost two decades) is also problematic as it may not take into consideration recent gains. For example, according to the Police Service, reports of offences such as rape, incest, and sexual offences were reduced by 21 per cent in 2017 as 192 reports were recorded for the period as opposed to 151 for the same period in 2018. But these are just the reported cases, which are likely the tip of the iceberg.
Still, as complicated as the issue is, two per cent is not a comforting figure. It mirrors a general lack of convictions in the criminal justice system, whether for rape or murder. The police and law enforcement agencies need the resources and the expertise to develop capacity. And this must be done urgently.
In this regard, the issue is not just about the conventional parameters of investigatory work. It should also be about sensitisation of officers from the police station reception desk, right up to the highest ranks. First responders need to be trained to work in what is a difficult and sensitive area, more so because of all of the social stigma and the taboos that relate to sexuality and gender in our society.
The offence of rape is a very good example. Far too often the victim of rape, especially if that victim is female, is blamed or not believed in court. Social views about the place of the woman in society tend to get in the way of justice. Double standards exist. A woman is often punished for embracing her sexuality. As such why would a rape victim come forward in this climate?
The Attorney General must be praised for shedding light on an issue that has been in the dark for too long. But that must not be the end of the matter. We also need more people to speak out, and we need more sensitivity on the part of the State.