Progressive, yet problematic: Unpacking the therapy order and sentence in S v SN
Author: Delano Cole van der Linde
Affiliations: University of Cape Town
Source: South African Law Journal, Volume 140 Issue 4, p. 715-732
The judgment in S v SN  ZAECGHC 35 is dichotomous as it is both progressive and problematic. The judgment is progressive as, for the first time, a South African criminal court imposed a therapy order for a victim of rape. The minor victim in this case was raped multiple times by her uncle in a familial home. The court was further enjoined to impose a minimum life sentence under the Criminal Law Amendment Act 105 of 1997, as the victim was under the age of 16 and had been raped on multiple occasions. However, the court in SN was entitled to deviate from the minimum sentence when ‘substantial and compelling circumstances exist’ to do so. In considering the mitigating and aggravating factors present in the case, the court deviated from the minimum life sentence based on the remorse of the accused and the lack of force used during the rape. The judgment is problematic because considering these factors unearthed problematic narratives surrounding the nature of rape. This note critically analyses the judgment in SN and submits that although the therapy order is a welcome development, the court erred in considering a lack of force employed during the rape as a mitigating factor.