Today in Malawi, e², WLSA (Women and Law Southern Africa), and rape survivors who have been denied access to justice because of the corroboration rule, initiated a landmark human rights challenge in the High Court of Malawi.  Click here for photos from todays celebration in support of: “Believe Her. End Corroboration”.

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 applicants state that they feel “doubly violated, first by the depraved perpetrators who raped them, and secondly by the justice system they relied on to protect their rights and hold the perpetrators accountable”.

The corroboration rule results in a lack of faith in the justice system that deters women from reporting; impunity for the accused, leaving him free to rape again; and impunity that sends the message to potential perpetrators that there are no consequences for the crime of rape, which increases rape rates, and leaves girls/women vulnerable to more violence.

At age 14, Esther (*not her real name) reported being 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.
Today, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Esther and other rape victims in Malawi, with help from the equality effect and WLSA-Malawi, asked the Courts to address the archaic, 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 had little to no legal rights, and were seen as unreliable witnesses due to their gender. Research actually shows that rape victims make false allegations in 2-8% of claims, the same rate as false reports of other crimes.

Malawi’s Constitution includes the right to dignity in court proceedings, the right to equality and 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 rape claims, are victims of the crime immediately placed on the defensive.  Rape survivors internationally are 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 extra evidence in rape cases because of the corroboration rule.

After the Court filing today, the applicants, WLSA-Malawi, e² and local stakeholders celebrated with a street procession to mark the occasion.  There was music, theatre, speeches and feasting to celebrate the initiation of this unique equality claim.

To read Thomson Reuters coverage of the "Believe Her" claim, click here.

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