Monday, October 24, 2005

Women sold into prostitution by gamblers

October 22 2005 at 01:43AM
http://www.int.iol.co.za/
By Tash Reddy

Women married to compulsive gamblers are being raped or forced into prostitution by loan sharks after being used as collateral by their addicted husbands.

And the lack of action by the KZN Gambling Board, among others, is exacerbating the problem.

According to a new Act, spouses of compulsive gamblers can get them banned from casinos, but so far only the Eastern Cape and Gauteng have enforced the law.

"Provinces are working feverishly to align their legislations with the new National Gambling Act," said Mike Burns, acting general manager at the National Gambling Board (NGB).

But authorities at the KZN Gambling Board can't say how soon the Act will be implemented here. "It's not something we wish to discuss with the media," said Barry Wilkens at the KZN Gambling Board.

Women of all colours, creed and age groups are coming together to gain support and make their voices heard.

Because of the sensitivity of the matter, names could not be revealed, but an investigation by The Independent on Saturday found harrowing stories of women often overlooked by society.

"The first time I was raped I was in a state of shock," said a distraught 27-year-old.

"I had been married for less than a year and had no idea my husband was a gambling addict. He owed loan sharks R6 000 and after hiding from them for months, they decided to scare him by raping me.

"I was too scared to report it. How is a helpline going to assist me or an application to get my husband banned from gambling?"

Another woman who lost everything because of her husband's addiction was forced into prostitution to pay his gambling debts.

"I was terrified, but my children's lives were threatened so I couldn't refuse."

Trying to take action is difficult because "third party exclusions" require a spouse to apply to a high court or magistrate to exclude gambling addicts from the practice on condition sufficient evidence proves he or she has a problem.

"It's not easy, as the spouse has to prove conclusively the person has a problem, which requires extensive documentation showing financial deterioration," said Burns.

"Once the person is banned and continues gambling, their winnings will be forfeited and they will be charged with trespassing and may be arrested."

"Given the conditions under which most of us live, it would be impossible to conclusively prove our husbands are compulsive gamblers," said one frustrated woman whose husband has lost everything through gambling.

"We are more concerned with surviving than keeping written records of everything."

Dr Vasavan Agambaram, a specialist psychiatrist, agrees it might be difficult to prove.

"The gambler is often a reasonably good provider until he or she hits rock bottom," Agambaram said.

Dr Rodger Meyer, medical director at the National Responsible Gambling Programme, said there were many people who could benefit from the initiative but it was not foolproof.

"People can still sneak into a gambling establishment and nothing stops them from private gambling," he said.

Other frustrated wives said more stringent measures should be put in place.

"In no way does the Act empower wives when we are beaten and threatened," said one wife at a gambling support group.

Trust is another problem, with many wives having to double check bank transactions, till slips, accounts and spousal whereabouts.

A proposal from some of the women is that a law be passed so they can intercept their husbands' salaries.

But legal experts said it couldn't be done - and even if it were possible, the wife would again have to prove to a bank and employer that there was a problem.

Meyer said these wives should contact the helpline set up by the National Responsible Gambling Programme. But for others, he said, the answer was to seek a divorce.

Statistics from the National Responsible Gambling Programme show that at least 550 000 South Africans have gambling problems.

Most (51,8%) are in Gauteng, followed by KZN with 16,4%.

The toll free helpline number is 0800 006 008.

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