TALKING ABOUT RAPE – AND WHY IT MATTERS: Adjudicating rape in the Western Cape High Court

  • Stacy Moreland University of Cape Town
Keywords: Rape, courts, criminal justice system, Western Cape, South Africa,


This article asks the question: how do judges know what rape is and what it is not? The statutory definition contained in the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act1 (SORMA) guides courts in adjudicating rape cases, and as such the definition is theirs to interpret and implement. This article analyses a small selection of recent judgements of the Western Cape High Court2 (WCHC) for answers. The article begins by establishing why judgements are an important source for understanding what rape means in society at large; it then discusses the relationship between power, language, and the law. This is followed by specific analyses of cases that show how patriarchy still defines how judges express themselves about rape. It concludes by looking at the institutional factors that discourage judges from adopting new ways of talking about rape, and their constitutional mandate to do so.

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