Rape and compensation

The SA Law Commission has released a paper on limited compensation for some victims of crime, including rape victims. According to press reports the proposal suggests that rape victims be awarded the sum of R2,000. The proposal is compassionate, generous and wrong. While no one can question the motives behind such a proposal, putting it into practice could turn out to have perverse consequences. It is also wrong to suggest that people who have had nothing to do with a crime (in this case gun owners) should be taxed in order to fund the compensation. This is what the SA Law Commission is proposing. Current crime statistics are not available since the government embargoed them in light of the negative publicity they generated. But in 1998 there were 49,280 cases of rape and attempted rape. There are approximately two reported rapes for every rapist taken to court and of those prosecuted only about 16% are convicted. This means that for every 15 rapes reported there is just one conviction. And this does not take into account the high number of rape cases that are never reported. One problem with the compensation plan, which any economist should be able to point out, is that the R2,000 compensation will tend to increase the rape complaints filed as well as the danger that many of the additional cases could be bogus. It is unfortunate but many South Africans, particularly women, are very poor indeed. And a R2,000 packet could double their annual income. To report a rape involves no monetary cost whist the upside potential for a poor woman would be very high. Whenever government gives money to a particular group of people the numbers of people claiming membership of that group increases. Naturally these comments do not apply to legitimate victims of rape but it is a criticism of the temptation it will create for women living in poverty to fraudulently claim to be victims of a terrible crime in order to receive compensation. A method would have to be devised to distinguish legitimate from illegitimate claims. But that creates a further problem. Any method used to make this determination could not fail to rule out some legitimate victims. If reported rapes do not increase, compensation for this one crime will be around R98 million per year. But it is reasonable to assume that compensation will lead to a substantial increase in the number of reported cases. Increased reporting would stretch police abilities even further and possibly even lead to a reduction in the number of arrests and conviction rates for rape. More rapists would continue to walk the streets and more women would become their victims. Using the proposed additional resources for investigating rapes and apprehending rapists would be far more beneficial to actual and potential victims of rape. Source: Jim Peron who is a freelance researcher and writer. This article may be reprinted without consent but with acknowledgement. FMF\23 May 2001
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