Submission to Department of Justice: Statutory Rape and the Age of Consent (2015)

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Department of Justice and Constitutional Development

The Director-General - Mr H Du Preez

Comment on the Sexual Offences and Related Matters Amendment Bill

Thank you for this opportunity to comment on the Sexual Offences and Related Matters Amendment Bill. We would also appreciate and opportunity to present this submission verbally at Parliament. The Christian Action Network is an umbrella body of Christian congregations and organisations that stand together in the socio-political arena to uphold pro-life and pro-family values. CAN represents its 116 member organisations to government and to the media. CAN has consistently made submissions to Parliament regarding legislative threats to children for the last 23 years.

Imagine This Scenario
Suppose a 12 year old girl (in standard 4 or 5, grade 6 or 7) is raped by a 14 year old “cool” boy at school (standard 7 or grade 9). Under this Bill, that 12 year old will now need to have the courage to lay a charge and go through the court process to disprove that she gave consent. What if the boy says she is a liar and gave her consent? Who will believe her side of the story? What if gossip about the incident and the fact that the boy has been charged with rape is spread around the whole school? Everyone will know she has made a complaint against the ‘cool kid’. There are girls facing situations like this all the time. Most of them are too scared to lay a charge of rape at the police.

For sexual violation (touching or kissing), we agree that that it would be silly to prosecute. However, leaving the law on statutory rape as it is can prevent a situation as described above.

Peer Pressure in a Hyper-Sexualised Culture
Young people today face incredible peer pressure in a hyper-sexualised and violent society. There is now the added influence of pornography exposure and/or addiction. Boys are getting exposed to pornography at a young age and are acting out what they see. Research has shown that the average age of exposure to pornography is 11. In April 2012, an ugly incident sent shock waves across South Africa: seven boys gang-raped a mentally handicapped girl from Soweto, filmed the attack on a cell phone, then circulated the footage via social media.[1]

From 2010 to 2012, there were four gang rapes of girls by teen boys (that we know of from news reports); and in each of the four cases, the boys filmed the abuse and then spread the video via social media.

Research released by the Film and Publications Board (2008) found that:

  • 67% of South African teens surveyed have watched a porn DVD.
  • A total of 45% reported watching pornographic films regularly.
  • Most teens surveyed (64%) have been exposed to pornographic images on the Internet.
  • 60% exchange pornographic Internet addresses with their friends.
  • 81% reported knowledge of pornographic images on their friends’ cell phones.
  • 43% reported that they get and read pornographic magazines.
  • 51% reported that watching such films made them more curious about sex.[2]

Porn is available to children everywhere, because computers are now everywhere and children go everywhere with their computers. With one mouse click or search on their smartphone, today’s kids can access graphic hard-core images unimagined by their peers a generation ago.  

The Film and Publications Board also surveyed over 604 children aged 1012 years old and 13–15 years old on their exposure to sexual content on the Internet or on cell phones.[3] The research study found that:

  • 22% of the children who participated in the study have been exposed to distressing content on the Internet mostly of a sexual nature and nudity which made them feel uncomfortable.
  • 14% of chat room users in the age group have been exposed to distressing content in chat rooms and have had sexual advances made to them on line.
  • 12% have been exposed to distressing content on cell phones mostly of a sexual nature.
  • 7% have been exposed to distressing email content which was mostly violent and sexual.

It would not be an exaggeration, therefore, to say that pornography is easily available to children, as are cigarettes, which are also prohibited by law for sale to children.

Girls are disproportionately more vulnerable to sexual bullying. Can consent given under extreme pressure really be called consent?

The proposed Amendment puts an enormous pressure on a girl to prove that she did not consent.

Difference In Maturity
There is a massive difference in intellectual and emotional maturity between a 12 year old and a 14 year old. There is also still a big social difference even between a 13 year old and a 15 year old.

Can’t Vote, Can’t Drink, or Smoke but can Give Consent to Sex?
We find it bizarre that a child of 12 years of age, is not legally allowed to vote, drink or buy cigarettes and yet, should this Bill be passed, will be allowed to consent to sex? Can a 12 year old really give informed consent? Informed consent involves knowledge, appreciation and consent of the sexual act and potential consequences.

This new Bill is even more bizarre considering that it was proposed in the new “national standards for liquor legislation” to have the age for using liquor increased to 21 years.

Courts Should Not Create Policy
Courts are not and should not be in the in the business of creating policy. We would like to emphasise the need to firmly maintain the separation of powers. We will listen to what they have to say (about the boundaries of the Constitution but it is up to us and Parliament to create policies that best protect our children, especially girls. Our girls need more protection, not less.

Reducing Child Abuse
If we are serious about reducing child abuse in South Africa, then a good start would be banning abortion and pornography and reintroducing prayer and Bible reading in schools.

Sincerely,

Taryn Hodgson

International Co-ordinator


1. Staff reporters, “Fury over filmed gang-rape of handicapped teen”, Pretoria News, 19 April 2012.

2. 1 000 teens aged 13–17 from randomly selected schools in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg were surveyed. Report on Internet Usage and the Exposure of Pornography to Learners in South African Schools, FPB, 2006.

3. Technology Puts Children Under Threat – FPB Investigation into the incidence and impact of non-contact sexual abuse through the Internet and cell phones, 2008.

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