Challenging the Corroboration Rule

In Malawi, a girl or woman who is raped can’t report the attack and expect to get justice.  She must “corroborate” the rape, meaning she has to provide medical evidence or a third-party witness to the attack.

“The corroboration rule is preventing rape survivors from reporting their attackers, and ensuring perpetrators escape punishment and jail time. Worse, it is reinforcing a culture of victim-blaming and discriminatory disbelief of sexual assault survivors” Mzati Mbeko, National Director of Women and Law Southern Africa Research and Education Trust (WLSA-Malawi) will act as amicus in the corroboration claim.

At age 14, Esther (*not her real name) reported to have been raped by her 50-year-old pastor, who forced his way into her home while her mother was away, beat and raped her. Esther contracted gonorrhea as a result and needed medical treatment for several weeks because of the severity of her physical injuries. The accused was acquitted because there was no third-party witness corroborating Esther’s evidence. In Malawi, corroboration is needed in sexual offence cases because of the supposed great risk of false accusations. The corroboration rule served to aid and abet Esther’s perpetrator and kept him out of jail, leaving him free to rape again.

On The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, (Wednesday, November 25th, 2015), Esther and other rape victims in Malawi, with help from WLSA- Malawi and the equality effect, will ask the Courts to address the age old, international problem of the “he says/she says” dichotomy in sexual assault law and end the application of the corroboration rule in sexual assault cases.

The corroboration rule is a law dating back to colonial times, made when women were considered property, had little to no legal rights, and were seen as unreliable witnesses due to their gender. That rule requires judges to warn themselves of the “danger” of convicting an accused rapist solely based on the testimony of the woman.

Malawi’s Constitution grants all peoples of Malawi the right to be treated with dignity in court proceedings, the right to equal protection under the law and freedom from discrimination, the right to access justice, and the right to security of the person.  Regional and international human rights law also protects these rights.  The rape survivors in this landmark case will argue that the corroboration rule results in the violation of these rights.  The case will benefit all 9 million girls/women in Malawi, and girls/women everywhere.

Only in the context of sexual assault claims, are victims of the crime immediately placed on the defensive.  Rape survivors internationally are all too often assumed to be lying or seeking revenge, and are blamed for the violence they’ve experienced.  In Malawi, rape survivors are saying “no” to impunity for rapists, and challenging the law that requires third party witnesses or medical evidence in rape cases because of the judicial application of the corroboration rule.

It is time to end the corroboration rule in Malawi. It is time to believe her.

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