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South Africa
criminalizes male rape

South Africa
criminalizes male rape

South African lawmakers Tuesday approved major reforms to the country's rape laws, including extending the definition of rape to include men.

The Sexual Offences Bill was passed less than two weeks after a separate challenge was turned down by South Africa's highest court, which said the issue should be decided by legislators.

The bill must go to the National Council of Provinces before it can be signed into law, the South African Press Association reported.

Among other changes, it equalizes treatment of male and female victims and labels many more types of assaults, including forced oral sex, as "rape." Previously, forced anal penetration of men or boys was prosecuted as an "indecent act" and given much lighter sentencing.

It allows victims to obtain a court order for alleged offenders to undergo compulsory HIV testing and for the results to be revealed to them. It entitles victims to PEP, post-exposure prophylaxis in the form of antiretroviral drugs, at state expense, provided that they press criminal charges against their attackers--an amendment that had been fought by activists.

"The bill now means you can't walk into a health facility and say you've been raped and ask for PEP and just be assessed on a medical basis," Liesel Gerthotholtz, director of the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre in Johannesburg, told IRIN Africa News.

"I personally think that the requirement may even be unconstitutional in terms of the right to access health care," Gerthotholtz said.

In addition, the law establishes new penalties for child sex abusers and sex trafficking and creates a federal sex-offender registry.

Advocates say the law is important because South Africa has one of the highest rape rates, as well as one of the highest AIDS rates, in the world. Many of the assaults against men take place in the criminal justice system, and corrections workers were among the law's chief supporters.

"All acts of forced sex should be treated equally in the eyes of the law," Melanie Judge of OUT LGBT told the press association.

Two weeks earlier, South Africa's constitutional court declined to take that view.

A man convicted of raping a 9-year-old girl in 2004 appealed to the high court, citing evidence that found she had been anally, but not vaginally, penetrated. The court ruled May 10 that under the laws then prevailing the defendant could only be seen to have committed indecent assault and sent his sentence back to a lower court for review. (Barbara Wilcox, The Advocate)

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