Last week, Rwanda Public Prosecution Authority embarked on a process to establish a national registry of all individuals convicted for rape or defilement.
The registry which will also be open to the public, will help law enforcement and justice to track repeat offenders — and contribute wherever background information is required about a particular individual for particular administrative and/or legal reasons.
Gender-based violence remains a thorn in the fight for women empowerment. Information from the UN Women website indicates that 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence, or sexual violence by a non-partner (not including sexual harassment).
Violence can negatively affect women’s physical, mental, sexual, and reproductive health, and may increase the risk of acquiring sexually transmitted infections in some settings. And this not only affects their welfare but social wellbeing as well.
Therefore, this new development comes in force to not only strengthen but supplement the current policies and operational measures in place in the fight against sexual violence.
Sam Kalinda, a gender activist and project manager of Safe Schools for Girls, lauds the new development, noting that it is a good move by government for the continued efforts to assume justice for victims of gender-based violence and specifically to minors abused.
What is needed moreover is awareness on public engagement in reporting perpetrators, protecting victims and the stigma that goes with it, he says.
He is, however, quick to add that this may serve less to the interest of GBV victims since they may have no information on who the sex offenders are.
“While we appreciate policy reforms in the sector, there is still a gap because some measures are not victim centred,” Kalinda adds.
Sheila Muziba, a logistics coordinator, says this has come at the right time, but what is more important is for the public to stop victim blaming.
She shares her recent encounter with a co-worker who made sexist remarks under the disguise of making conversation.
“I had an incident recently, I had just arrived at work when a male colleague looked at me and said that if he harassed me, it would be my fault because my dress was short. I am sure he meant it in a joking way but then it got me thinking of how many young girls have been harassed because they wore something short or tight. The issue should be addressed more by stopping victim blaming. Offenders should be held responsible for their actions and not shift the blame,” she says.
Muziba is of the view that this registry might actually stop people from committing the crime out of “fear of shame”, especially now that they will be appearing in the records as rapists.
“If that happens, then we can know for sure if the rapist has mental health issues, as most of the offenders defend themselves, or not. However, my opinion may only be applicable to someone who cares about what kind of records are under their name,” she says.
Need for complimentary measures
For Gloria Busingye, the founder of ‘Safe Circle for Children’ a project aimed at putting an end to the culture of silence among victims of sexual violence, establishing the sex offender registry is a great move, considering the fact that documentation is a means to the solution of sexual gender-based violence.
She adds that when it comes to the fight against such violence, more is needed.
“Much as the national registry will help to keep track of the offenders, it’s not really a sole solution because we don’t know what else is in plan even as they are kept track of. In my opinion, the main reason for repeat offenders is the fact that reporting has not been made the priority it is, and once some of these cases are reported, offenders are still not handled as their cases deserve which reduces the intensity of the issue,” she says.
She is, therefore, of the view that in addition to the national registry move, what is really needed is more channels of reporting that are friendly to victims or even bystanders, along with deserving punishment to guilty offenders before they return to society (if they have to).
“Even once they are granted to return to their communities, government should at least deny them some particular rights or benefits (for instance particular work, travel) for a given period of time. That way, a chain for reporting, documenting, and punishment will be created to allow efforts to compliment other measures in place. For now though, the registry may be only a beginning point towards the response needed to address SGBV issues, if we need results,” Busingye adds.