Home » Judicial » Can Mandatory Sentencing Do the Trick?

When serial rapist Thomas Brighton Chirembwe was in January this year sentenced to 290 years in jail by magistrate Simon Rojers Kachambwa for raping 13 women and unlawful entry into their homes, the nation was left spellbound.

It became on record, the longest sentence ever imposed in Zimbabwe on a crime of such nature. While the nation appeared shocked at the magistrate’s sentence, gender activists and women’s rights organisations celebrated.

It was victory for women’s lib that had for long lobbied for such sentencing, as a way of reducing sexually related crimes.

They said it was not just a sentence, but a reflection of the Judiciary’s commitment to end sexual violence against women, men and children across. In passing the sentence, Magistrate Kachambwa said rape is the worst form of invasion of privacy, saying rapists needed long custodial sentences that remove them from society completely.

While Chirembwe’s relatives might have regarded the judgment as brutal, his sentence proved to be a harbinger of positive judicial adjustment on rape as attested by the events on the ground as Government and other stakeholders accelerate efforts to reduce sexual violence against women and children.

Realising the magnitude of the problem of rape, with reports that the sexual offence is on the increase, a Cabinet inter-ministerial committee that looks at rape and sexual abuse has since recommended a mandatory 30-year sentence for rapists.

Announcing the latest development the Minister of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development, Cde Oppah Muchinguri said the proposal will soon be presented to Cabinet for deliberations.

Once Cabinet adopts the proposal, raping or sodomising children between zero to 12 years, where the rapist knows that they are HIV positive will now attract life imprisonment, while 30 years would be the minimum sentence for any case of rape.

The proposal was not just a midnight talk made by a few interested individuals but came about as result of a series of consultations with several stakeholders who, for a long time had been lobbying the Government for stiffer sentences for rape, than what the courts were currently giving.

The decision was also informed by a research done by the inter-Ministerial Committee revealing that rape was on the increase due to lack of deterrent and stipulated minimum sentencing. This had resulted in inconsistent sentencing as judges and magistrates were often left to exercise their discretion, which in most cases were not in the interest of the victim.

Although law experts argue that mandatory sentencing impose undesirable restrictions on judiciary discretions and independence, while undermining the basic rule principles, compulsory sentencing is the only way that can protect victims from continued sexual abuse.

It will result in just and balanced disposition of cases, while reducing disparities in sentencing for the same crime.

Mandatory sentencing becomes the only way at which rape victims will get relief which tallies with the crime committed. Such a sentencing system will put an end to trauma, anguish and the psychological stress that rape victims often go through once trying to get legal recourse, while also acting as a deterrent to would be offenders.

Rape victims often find themselves in unique positions of facing scepticism not only from society but also from within the legal system.

Society often raises eyebrows and questions the authenticity of the rape claims while the judiciary sometimes doubts the violent nature of the crime and the evidence that is submitted especially if the victim is a commercial sex worker, or has a “questionable social background”.

In addition, rape victims are often re-victimised in the courtroom in the form of attacks on their credibility and past sexual history. Some within the judiciary system even argue that female victims’ allegations must be carefully scrutinised because women are considered to be inherently suspect as witnesses. The attack on their integrity is even made worse with an inadequate sentencing, where a rapist gets a lesser sentencing than a cattle rustler.

The trauma of the violation and seeing the offender back in society within a short period of time has long term consequences on the victim. However, that situation would be addressed once rapists get mandatory sentencing for such heinous crimes, which violates a person’s integrity.

The 30-year mandatory sentence alone should be deterrent enough for would-be offenders and other rapists who have been serving short sentences in jail, and being thrown back to society to commit and still commit the same crimes.

Activists are already convinced that the proposal will sail through Cabinet without any hassles, considering that the Justice Minister, Cde Emmerson Mnangagwa, has previously made it clear that there is need for mandatory sentences for rapists.

Cde Mnangagwa recently told legislators in Parliament that it was important to prescribe mandatory sentences against crimes that violate other people’s rights such as the crime of rape.

“The benefits of enacting mandatory sentencing in rape outweighs its disaantages,” Cde Mnangagwa said, adding that mandatory sentencing has worked well in other jurisdictions as it poses deterrent factors and reduces time courts need to decide on an appropriate sentence.

By pushing for mandatory sentencing of rape, Zimbabwe should see a decline in rape and other sexually related incidences that have been the country’s scourge.

Rape should not be considered nothing more than a “sexual act” if it is not violent, but should be treated as any form of serious crime, which should not be allowed to happen.

Source : The Herald