GENDER FOCUS with EMELDA MWITWA
THE vulnerability of women and girls to crime has been a subject of concern in the recent past.
As usual, when criminal activities take an upswing, so do threats on the lives of victims of crime in affected homes and communities.
This is why the reported increased incidences of burglary and mugging of people in public places have been associated to occurrences of sexual violence against women and girls.
I don’t know if this is how bad things have always been in Zambia, or perhaps members of society are just more enlightened about their rights, and, as a result, reporting most of the cases to law enforcers, there has been an alarming increase in cases of sexual violence in the country.
It is hardly the Zambia we used to know where women were respected as mothers and communities were safe havens for women and children, although incidences of crime could not have been ruled out completely.
Of course there is no society in this world that is completely crime-free, but it’s the prevalence of crime and its effect on defenceless citizens that is a source of concern.
It is worrisome when house break-ins become the order of the day and criminal gangs take away people’s properties and, on top of that, harm victims of crime.
It is equally worrying when muggers target public transport such as taxis and buses and rob their victims of valuables.
This is a new wave of crime, particularly in Lusaka where gangsters are reportedly using buses to pick on their victims. Unfortunately, a woman was raped recently by motorised criminals ‘posing’ as bus driver and conductor.
Perhaps these are just a few rotten nuts among the many public service vehicle drivers, but what is certain is that there is a bunch of criminals that are terrorising unsuspecting passengers on public transport.
Both males and females have fallen victim to attacks on public transport.
A number of people have testified how they have been mugged on buses and their money and valuables such as laptops and phones taken away from them.
Sadly, for the 24-year-old woman, she was raped on a bus, which to me means that the womenfolk need to be wary of sexualised attacks on buses and taxis.
Somehow, sexual violence against women and girls is an add-on crime to burglary and other misdemeanours that are committed against defenceless people in homes and public places.
Only this month, a 27-year-old woman of Lusaka’s Chalala area was raped by one of the four men that broke into her house to steal.
The four thugs forced their way into the victim’s house on November 15 between 03:00 hours and 04:00 hours and stole her smartphone, television set, home theatre speakers and assorted household goods.
During the robbery, one of the robbers who was armed with a knife entered the victim’s bedroom and raped her. thereafter they sped off in a Toyota Spacio.
Fortunately, police who were on patrol in the area managed to corner all the goons in question and recovered the stolen items. Sadly, what was taken away from the victim – her self-esteem, her virtue and pride – cannot be recovered.
She has been left with a wound that will take many years to heal and traumatic memories of an ugly experience that she will never forget.
Her story is obviously akin to that of many women who have found themselves in vicinities and homes where crime is being committed.
And generally people feel that criminal acts have taken an upsurge in the capital city, with many people complaining about thieves breaking into their vehicles and others being mugged in shopping malls and on public transport vehicles.
We now have motorised thugs targeting electronic gadgets such as laptops, cameras and smartphones, and these are said to be stealing valuables that are left unattended in motor vehicles.
In public places such as shopping malls and filling stations where thugs have snatched gadgets from motor vehicles, they are so careful not to expose their faces to the installed CCTV cameras.
A number of people that have been mugged in carparks have shared that when they demand for footage of the robbery, all they see is a vehicle coming to park next to theirs. Then someone whose face they cannot see will emerge and tamper with their car.
The onus is on potential victims of crime, which all of us are, not to leave valuables in parked motor vehicles or indeed young children on aboard while shopping.
The children could be harmed or abused sexually because the behaviour of criminals when they set out on an evil mission can be quite unpredictable.
As a matter of fact, the 24-year-old woman I made reference to was raped by these motorised hoodlums in Lusaka recently, although in her case it happened on a bus.
Apparently, it’s a new form of crime in which bus drivers and conductors have been implicated.
So this woman was travelling from Lusaka to Kafue when the driver suddenly changed the route, after which he switched positions with the conductor.
The driver then ordered the young woman to take off her clothes and went on to molest her sexually, right on the bus.
Police are aware about this new wave of crime being orchestrated by bus crews and are warning members of the public to be security-conscious as they board public transport.
As a matter of caution, people are being urged to take note of registration numbers of motor vehicles before boarding and share them with friends and relatives, in case something should go wrong.
The best option, however, is to avoid moving late in the night and not to jump on buses whose occupants are all male.
And women are particularly being cautioned against using public transport in the night because, apparently, some bus crews cannot be trusted when night falls.
In a nutshell, the high incidences of crime in any community is a source of concern because it comes with so many ripple effects.
When people live in fear of criminals, they cannot exude their full potential in whatever they do, and this eventually may negatively affect businesses.
For example, stories of people being mugged by bus crews and a woman being raped by a bus driver on a Kafue-bound bus are not good for the businesses of bus operators.
Police must put a stop to this type of criminality, otherwise many people will suffer the consequences.
And when gangsters are given room to establish their reigns of terror in communities, victims of crime stand at risk of losing not just their properties, but lives too.
I hope that police will get to the bottom of these matters and flush out these criminal elements in our communities.
Of course they need the help of community members and victims of crime to volunteer important information that will help them to restore peace in our communities.