The Gender Affairs Department has kick-started public consultation on the proposal to develop and publicise database for people convicted of sexual offences.
If it so happens, it will not be the first to name and shame offenders. Already, the names of those convicted of drunken driving are published every month in The Daily News, an initiative based on the persuasive logic that ‘naming and shaming’ offenders is a deterrent to others.
While it is debatable to what extent the naming and shaming of drunken drivers has actually contributed to lower drunken driving incidents, the publication of sexual offender is a different kettle of fish. Jurisdictions around the world are demonstrating the value of sexual offenders’ registries as an effective deterrent against both new offences and recidivism.
In the US, a country plagued by some of the most horrendous sexual offences, particularly against minors, sexual offenders’ registries are a useful tool in tracking the whereabouts of convicted offenders and monitoring their engagement with broader society. These registries can be fine-tuned, for instance to allow for the removal of those convicted of certain offences after a certain period, to categories offenders according to their ongoing risk to society or to impose criteria for the viewing of registries.
Sexual offences, as psychologists have noted, are an especially heinous form of crime, stemming usually from psychosocial anomalies that in general can be lifelong conditions. Child rapists are often irredeemable, as are those into sadomasochistic violence, while, by contrast, a teenager convicted of sexually assaulting his girlfriend stands a better chance of rehabilitation.
Botswana in some respect is in denial about its sexual violence crisis. A 2009 study, for instance, found that about five percent of women aged between 13 and 24 reported being raped, while the police’s latest statistics indicate that 700 rapes were reported in the year up to May 2017.
Add to that the unreported rapes, sexual assault, unwanted fondling, work-place harassment, online prowlers and abuse, and the picture is one of a dangerous society for women and indeed men.
South Africa is currently having an uncomfortable national dialogue about ‘rape culture’, which essentially is the concept that a country’s culture fosters rape by protecting perpetrators, denying or euphemising assaults and victimising victims.
Clearly the same dialogue is desperately needed in Botswana, as the entry point to effecting changes in our laws. Seemingly innocuous habits in our culture, such as bo malome playing/pinching girl children on their laps, or workmates grabbing and wrestling with female co-workers, all represent a normalisation of attitudes within which sexual offences thrive.
Publicly naming and shaming convicted sexual offenders, once the criteria is refined, will send a message to perpetrators that the spotlight is shining on their deeds in the dark, while providing an assurance to victims that the nation is on their side.
“People talk about sexual assault like it’s a bad habit men have.”
– Jon Stewart