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JUBA - 22 Mar 2016

Rape survivors not accessing justice, says South Sudan Law Society

Many South Sudanese survivors of rape are not receiving any justice for the crime committed against them, a new report from the South Sudan Law Society (SSLS) has found.

SSLS surveyed nearly 2000 people in Juba town, the Juba UN base for displaced citizens, Wau town, and the Bentiu UN base, and found extremely high levels of sexual violence against women, but very little justice for survivors.

In the case of the Bentiu UN base, 23% of households surveyed found said that someone in the household was sexually assaulted in the past five years, and 87% of those incidents took place in 2015, the Law Society said in its report, which is available for reading here.

Yet only one in five survivors made any effort to seek redress. The Law Society said that over half of survivors in Bentiu said the justice system was too corrupt and that they did not know what to do.

Meanwhile, in the Juba UN base, 9% of surveyed families had experienced a sexual assault, but not a single affected family took any steps to address the issue.

The Law Society said there are high levels of impunity for those who commit rape. In 65% of rape cases in Bentiu, the perpetrator was identified, but never captured. In 24% of cases, the perpetrator was never identified at all.

The Law Society noted that justice systems such as police and courts have been wiped out in Bentiu town, while in the UN bases there is limited justice mechanisms available besides temporary jails offered by the UN.

The report noted that traditional or customary courts using chiefs and other tranditional authorities were not used much in Bentiu by rape survivors. The group said traditional courts are dominated by men and are criticized for discriminating against women.

Further, traditional courts may not have power over military personnel who may be responsible for sexual attacks.

Need to expand justice services

Still, the Law Society pointed out that survivors who did seek justice for the crime committed against them were sometimes satisfied with the outcome. Some survivors went to a hospital, raised their case with civil society organizations, or approached authorities.

"The more steps that respondent households took in seeking redress, the more likely they were to report satisfaction with the outcome of the case," the Law Society said.

"For the 17 sexual assault cases in which just one step was taken to address the issue, 59 percent of respondents were either ‘very unsatisfied’ (53%) or ‘unsatisfied’ (6%) with the outcome, 29 percent were ‘satisfied’ and none were ‘very satisfied’. In contrast, for the 15 cases that reached a fourth step, almost all (94%) said they were either ‘very satisfied’ (47%) or ‘satisfied’ (47%) with the outcome of the case," the group added.

"The survey findings suggest that if justice services are made available to people and if they are adequately informed about the steps that they need to take to assert their rights, survivors of sexual assault have better chances of achieving satisfactory outcomes when they invest their efforts into the process," the report said.

The Law Society also noted that the actual incidence rates of sexual violence are likely higher than their survey found.

"Survivors of SGBV are often reluctant to speak about their experiences due to the stigma that society attaches to sexual assault, feelings of shame, and fear of retaliation by their abusers," the group explained.