Damages for rape trauma

Dudu Busani

Dudu Busani

In what is believed to be one of the first cases of its kind in South Africa, a woman, 44, has been paid R300000 by her stepfather for allegedly raping her from childhood for 13 years.

The compensation amounts to little more than R190 for each month of the alleged abuse.

Women's rights activists said this sends out a false message in which the trauma and suffering of rape victims is ascribed a financial value.

Carrie Shelv er of People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA) said: "There is no way one can attach a price tag to rape."

But, she said, the woman should not be judged for taking money from her alleged rapist.

"The fact is, some women who have been raped or abused would rather go to a civil court because it is easier to obtain a judgment there than it is in a criminal court," she said.

The woman from Witbank in Mpumalanga reportedly claimed that her stepfather, who is now a pensioner, repeatedly raped her from when she was 11 years old until she was 24, which was when she got married.

She only confronted her stepfather about the rapes two years ago before she went to the Pretoria high court and filed a civil case against him. She demanded he pay her R1,8million for the trauma and psychological suffering he caused her.

The stepfather chose to settle out of court and agreed to pay her R300000 before the case even went to court, though he still denies any wrongdoing.

Shelver said in South Africa, where the rate of conviction in rape cases is only 7percent, victims have lost faith in the justice system and see no point in reporting cases to the police, let alone going into a criminal court to be intimidated by the accused's lawyers.

"Clearly a settlement would not have been made if there was not some sort of admission of guilt. This woman has gone through so much suffering and, even if she had got what she claimed, it wouldn't take away the pain," Shelver said.

Tseliso Thipanyane of the National Human Rights Commission said the victim could have taken the matter to the criminal court, but that would have added more trauma and suffering because of the insensitive way the courts handle rape cases.