Edwin Tshivhidzo, Rape incidents at correctional disturbing, says Commissioner, BuaNews Online (ZA), June 30, 2008.

Pretoria - The violations which occur at correctional centres are disturbing and should be dealt with sternly, says Correctional Services National Commissioner Vernie Petersen.

Speaking at a seminar organised by his department on Monday, Commissioner Petersen said rape continued to be a humiliation the department was struggling to control.

"Correctional Services officials continue to be powerless [in dealing] with these incidences," said Commissioner Petersen.

The department has over the years moved away from the punitive methods and are focused more on rehabilitation of offenders.

The seminar attended by various stakeholders seeks to find solution on how best rape can be curbed in the country's prisons.

Dr Lorinda Bergh who works at the department's Psychological Services said during her presentation that rape was a psychopathology or abnormal behaviour resulting from mental or chemical imbalances that resulted in a lack of control over sexual impulses.

She said sexual assault was viewed as an act of aggression and not as an act due to the need for sexual gratification or sexual desire.

Rape was defined as any type of sexual activity that one did not agree to and that any form of sexual engagement without the consent of the next person was tantamount to rape.

"Although the department condemns sexual violations in all correctional centres, it is often experienced by offenders as part of accepted offender culture within a correctional centre," she said.

This could result in victims of rape having the potential to become perpetrators themselves on release.

Dr Bergh also indicated that the psychological effects of being raped were devastating on victim's lives. The effects may affect the victim years later.

"Many victims are often diagnosed and treated for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, an anxiety disorder that can manifest after a person has been exposed to a terrifying event during which there was a serious threat of physical harm or where a person sustains serious physical harm."

Also speaking was Dr Carl Niehaus, who spoke about his personal experience of being raped while awaiting trail in prison.

He encouraged victims to speak out saying that it did not help to keep quite about the ordeal.

"A holistic understanding is needed to curb rape in prisons," he said.

Members of the public have been involved to play an active role in the reintegration of offenders back to society.

Other organisations attending the seminar include Stop Prisoner Rape, Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation and the Office of the Inspecting Judge.