Friday, August 04, 2006

To Be The Victim Rather Than The Criminal

Swaziland’s government is considering a “Sexual Offenses and Domestic Violence Act” with some nasty bits of bigotry tucked inside — classifying any (consensual) homosexual act as indecent assault, for example. But that’s buried far down in the article I found on Reuters AlertNet. Check out the headline:

SWAZILAND: AIDS activists say sexual offences bill criminalises victims

Oh, hell, not again. Many countries under Sharia law, like Saudi Arabia and Iran, already do this. The idea is that a woman can’t prove rape unless she has four male witnesses testifying on her behalf; otherwise she’s punished, for fornication or adultery. And Muslims aren’t the only ones to take a “she asked for it” approach to the victims of rape. The idea that Swaziland might pass a law punishing victims for their trauma sounds depressingly plausible.

MBABANE, 3 August (IRIN) - Groups representing Swaziland's HIV-positive population are angry at a proposed Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act mandating life prison terms for rapists who infect their victims with HIV, claiming that the law will criminalise the victim.

At first glance (and second and third, too) this makes no sense. How does a life sentence for the rapist hurt the victim? But I’m a reporter myself, so I figured the writer must be using this apparently nonsensical statement as a “hook” to entice his audience to continue reading, and find out what aspect of the bill mistreats the victims of rape. Hell, on a slow news day I once wrote a story that began “Rats, lizards and a boa constrictor ran loose in the basement of the Congregational Church on Tuesday, to the delight of the church’s younger members” — a naturalist came by with some animals to show the Vacation Bible School.

It’s the hook. It’s gotta be the hook. And it’s working — I’m intrigued. So here’s what the story says next:

"The world over, HIV is not regarded as a sin or an offence. Negative and positive persons must be accorded equal rights, which should be applicable even in a court of law. But what are we criminalising here? Sleeping with someone without his or her consent, in other words rape, or HIV?" said Thembi Nkambule, National coordinator of the Swaziland National Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS (SWANNEPHA), an HIV/AIDS umbrella organisation.

I don’t like where this story is going. But maybe the next part will explain how the victim is hurt by this law. Read on, MacDuff:

The proposed legislation stipulates that "when a rape is attended by HIV and AIDS, the prosecution shall prove that the accused either knowingly or negligently or recklessly infected the victim with HIV and AIDS."
SWANNEPHA said in a statement that it did not condone rape, but wished the legislation's punishments were in line with the crime, and its affiliated organisations objected to what they called the criminalisation of HIV positive people, because the rape survivor would have to take an HIV test before a convicted rapist was sentenced.


It’s obvious — this guy doesn’t give a damn about the victims. What he’s saying is: if you are a rapist and infect your victim with HIV, you shouldn’t face an extra penalty for that. And that attempt to say that victims are criminalized by an HIV test is downright pathetic.

And yet, if the guy does succeed in framing this as a victim’s-rights issue he’ll probably win a lot more converts to his cause. He’s doing a damn poor job of it, though. Would it be rude for me to speculate that his anti-retroviral drugs might be nicking potholes in his neural pathways?

Probably. And I don’t want to be rude. Best to not say anything. Instead, I’ll see if the guy finally figures out a way to make his argument live up to the headline, and frame this law as something punitive toward the HIV-positive victims of rape:

"Who can say that in five years, they won't find a cure for AIDS? This is inappropriate for today. It comes from the time when having HIV was seen as a death sentence. Now, an HIV positive person can live for years with the assistance of ARVs," Nkambule told IRIN.

Nope.

2 Comments:

Anonymous NoStar said...

Doesn't AIDS stand for
Anally Injected Death Sentence?

9:19 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

It's kind of a relief to know America doesn't have the world's MOST insane special-interest groups.

10:20 PM  

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