Rape Trials: The Role of Court Supporters

IMG_1545_1.jpgReporting a rape can be a deeply traumatic process for a rape survivor. Many survivors fear being judged, as the result of the recurring rape myths in our criminal justice system. A lack of sensitivity from service providers, greatly increases the risk of survivors experiencing secondary trauma.


It’s common to feel a lot of uncertainty about what to expect during the trial, and the prospect of retelling the story yet again can be extremely daunting.  It can be a very lonely time, and fear of intimidation can affect the ability of the survivor to testify freely. It’s crucial for the strength of the case, that the survivor feels safe enough to recount the story. This is where the role of court supporter becomes invaluable.


Most survivors have never been inside a court room, and worry about being in the same space as their perpetrator. One of the ways court supporters help, is through an orientation of the court room. The court supporter will identify an empty court room, to explain where the different role players will be standing, and how the proceedings will work. Perpetrators often try to distract survivors while testifying, and court supporters need to brief the survivor on how to handle this. Some strategies may include avoiding eye contact or being positioned away from the perpetrator.


Court supporters aren’t allowed to talk to survivors during the proceedings, but can sit or stand next to them as a form of moral support. Many survivors fear intimidation on the court date, and feel extremely vulnerable and alone. In many cases the physical presence of the supporter can act as a kind of “buffer” between the survivor and their perpetrator.

There’s nothing easy about facing a perpetrator in court, but it’s important for survivors to know that they don’t have to face it alone.

To book a pre-trial consultation for an in-depth briefing, or to find out more about how our court supporters can help you, call us on 021 447 1467.



Words: Miles Collins

Miles is our Communications Officer. He’s a BA Journalism and Politics graduate from the University currently known as Rhodes, and has a particular interest in gender, coffee and cats.


Alexa Sedgwick profile (3).jpg

Pics: Alexa Sedgwick

Alexa is a freelance photojournalist and filmmaker with a keen interest in social activism and queer theory. She’s also an aspiring burlesque dancer, in a relationship with dessert.


Rape Crisis Newsletter May 2016

2016 celebrates 40 years of supporting rape survivors

Because I’ve been here for 20 of those 40 years, I can’t let the occasion go by without offering thanks to those that helped us get here.

Thanks to those who founded this organisation, and all our previous directors.  Thanks to past and present members of staff, for whom working at Rape Crisis is not just a job, but a part of them.  Thanks to our volunteers – all of whom come from the communities we serve – and who are the cornerstone of our organisation.  Thanks to our Trustees, past and present, who have careers of their own but give unstintingly of themselves, their time and their expertise. Thanks to those men and women who were courageous enough to seek our support in reaching out for personal healing; and to those who embarked on the difficult process of  bringing the perpetrators to justice.

And thanks to you – for being an individual who empowers Rape Crisis with your donations, for being an advocate and spreading the word, for being our partner behind the scenes – a role which is as vital to our work as any other.  Your support allows Rape Crisis to grow.

Long ago rape was seldom discussed or publicised.  We’re not in the business of telling sensationalist stories but there have been enough in the media of late to open everyone’s eyes, to encourage more debate, to register public scrutiny and to express our collective outrage.

Rape has its roots in discrimination against women and it happens in all spheres of society.  In countries where there’s more equality between men and women, studies show that there is less rape.  We all need to work at making that equality a reality in South Africa.

It is also thanks to all of you that we survived our recent financial crisis.  I hope that we can  rely on your continued support to ensure that we also weather the storms that are approaching.

Please read the rest of this newsletter to see what your support has achieved as described in the stories and events we showcase here, as well as to find out how you can celebrate 40 years with us.

Kathleen Dey



Photographer: Alexa Sedgwick

You helped to make our counsellor training possible

Thank you.  At the beginning of the year we asked you to help us raise money to cover the costs of training volunteer counsellors who could not afford the training fee but who were passionate about helping others. Your generosity was heartwarming.

The training started in March, with a group of 17 –  the largest group we’ve ever trained – and the first part of the course was personal growth…..

Personal growth is a very important and challenging part of the training during which people form close bonds through sharing their personal stories and histories. They talk about their own lives and the things that have happened to them which have made them who they are, exploring issues of sexuality and gender, with open discussions about culture and race, and how we use our diversity as a strength to understand violence as it happens to women everywhere, as well as to men and those who are gender non-conforming.

Next comes the more intensive learning sections in understanding the criminal justice system, the medical procedures after rape, and the psychological impact faced by survivors, their families and our communities. This understanding is crucial in order for our counsellors to be able to support our clients holistically on the journey to recovery and along the road to justice.

Finally, they enter the counselling skills section, where they learn about the principles of empowerment that govern all our work, the phases of recovery, the signs and symptoms of rape trauma syndrome, and skills of reflective listening. Through role plays they have the opportunity to try out their new techniques on each other and get feedback from experienced counsellors.

Those that stay the full course are then able to put their skills and passion into action in the service of the survivors we see. Thank you – more counsellors means that we can always ‘be there’ for all rape survivors.

Quotes from evaluation forms:  ‘I feel I’ve grown as a person.  It’s not a comfortable course, but a powerful one.’  ‘What I enjoyed most was the strength of the women – sometimes it was overwhelming.’


Photographer: Alexa Sedgwick

Looking for your support later this year

Rape Crisis will launch an advocacy campaign later this year that holds the South African Government accountable for its promise to roll out Sexual Offences Courts for survivors of rape and sexual assault.  There should be 200 courts across the country – that means twenty courts a year for the next ten years.

Can, and will Government deliver on its promise?

Specialised courts for all survivors across the country should be a reality.

Whilst Cape Town has specialised help for survivors which can not only lessen the trauma they endure, but will also increase the likelihood of convictions, not all rape survivors have access to these services

Rape Crisis currently offers court support at five regional Cape Town courts, we’re lobbying the Government to make sure that specialised courts are rolled out countrywide.

To support us, visit www.rapecrisis.org.za, and be there for a rape survivor all the way to the completion of the trial.


Photographer: Alexa Sedgwick

Mike Thompson Change a Life Trust: A dream come true for co-ordinator, Joyce Nomxhego Doni

In March we celebrated the completion of our first order of 1 300 care pack bags!

Many rape survivors go home to situations where they are disempowered by their financial situation. Being able to earn for the first time, by sewing the care pack bags that will be given to rape survivors who have been for a forensic examination, has begun to change their lives.

Thank you to the Mike Thompson Change a Life Trust and all those involved for making this dream a reality.

We’ve also started preparing for the planting of an indigenous food garden at the start of the rainy season, led by Loubie Rusch and Bridget Impey.  An enormous thank you to: Niels Colesky from GreenGro Gardens for the labour;  to Revelstone for the pavers;  and Reliance Compost for a huge discount on the compost.
To find out more, visit the Change a Life Facebook page


The Greatest Gift of Caring

The greatest gift of caring that you can give to the loved ones in your life and to anything else that’s important to you, is to have a valid and up to date Will.  The chaos of an intestate death is too much to bear for people who are struggling with loss and grief.

Once their families and others close to them have been looked after in their Will, many people also want to leave a bequest to a cause that’s close to their heart – perhaps one that they’ve already supported, and in which they really believe.  Should you be one of these people, please would you consider Rape Crisis as an extra beneficiary in your Will.  It would be our privilege to give you more information, should you be interested.


Intoxication, rape and the law

We regularly get asked questions around intoxication, rape and consent. We understand that a discussion of these issues likely involve stigma and victim-blaming. Rape culture often leads to survivors being blamed for their own rape because they were drunk. This is extremely unfair and could mean that survivors might sometimes even be unsure if they were raped or feel that they are to blame and then don’t report.

11202567_710708045695402_2574824045394921244_n.jpg[Pic: “Women who get drunk are not asking to be raped. A person that is too drunk might be incapable of consenting to sex; sex without consent is rape – and no one asks to be raped. #MythSmashing”]

Not only is this socially complex, but even the legal position can be quite complicated. In the below discussion, we aim to provide a short outline of the legal position regarding intoxication, rape and consent:

Currently, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act 32 of 2007 governs the legal position regarding rape and a range of other sexual offences.  Section 3 of the Act provides the following definition for rape:

 “Any person (‘A’) who unlawfully and intentionally commits an act of sexual

penetration with a complainant (‘B’), without the consent of B, is guilty of the offence of


From the above, it is clear that the absence of consent is a vital element of the definition of rape. If complainant/ survivor did not consent to the sexual act, then A will be guilty of rape.

This begs the question: “What is consent?” Luckily, the Act provides the answer in Section 1(2) by explaining that consent entails a voluntary and un-coerced agreement. For consent to be present, both persons has to enter into a voluntary agreement to partake in sex.

The Act also states that there are circumstances in which someone (B) cannot give voluntary and un-coerced consent.  If there is therefore a sexual act under these circumstances, it was not consensual. These circumstances include:

  • Where someone uses force or intimidation against B or another person or their property
  • Where someone threatens to harm B or another person or their property
  • Where there is an abuse of power or authority by someone to the extent that B cannot indicate his/her unwillingness to participate in the sexual act.
  • Where B is incapable of appreciating the nature of the sexual act, including where B is, at the time of the commission of such sexual act asleep, unconscious, or in an altered state of consciousness. This could be due to the fact that B is under the influence of any medicine, drug, alcohol or other substance to the extent that B’s consciousness or judgment is adversely affected.

For our discussion it is important to understand that, if someone is in an altered state of consciousness due to being under the influence of medicine, alcohol or drugs to the extent that the person’s consciousness or judgment is adversely effected, that person cannot consent to sex.  If someone therefore had sex with you while you were so drunk that your consciousness or judgment was severely affected and you were incapable of appreciating the nature of the act, the sex was non-consensual and could amount to rape.

The above position clearly highlights that someone who has sex with a person who is drunk or unconscious and therefore cannot understand the nature of the sexual act, is a perpetrator of rape. No survivor should ever be discouraged to seek help, get counselling or report a rape even if you were drunk the time. Remember: Being drunk is not a crime, rape is a crime.

By Jeanne Bodenstein

Jeanne is Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust’s Advocacy Coordinator. She is an admitted attorney and lover of pizza and red wine.


Introducing our advocacy campaign to our communities

Rape Crisis, as part of its Making Change programme, intends to hold government accountable for the promise of specialised sexual offences courts. We believe these courts are key to increasing reporting rates and conviction rates for rape, while decreasing the secondary victimisation of rape survivors. We recently introduced some of our volunteers and community members from Athlone and Khayelitsha to our advocacy campaign and trained the participants on the need for specialised sexual offences courts. We had engaging discussions regarding the high prevalence of rape in these communities and how specialised sexual offences courts can address these.

Here community members from Athlone and Khayelitsha are hearing about the key ideas behind an advocacy strategy.

Community members from Athlone and Khayelitsha hearing about the key ideas behind an advocacy strategy.

Here one of the groups is talking about how specialised sexual offences courts will better serve survivors.

Talking about how specialised sexual offences courts will better serve survivors.

Among the benefits are higher conviction rates, less secondary trauma for survivors, better resources, specialised services and ultimately – less rape.


Rape Crisis Advocacy Coordinator, Jeanne Bodenstein, outlining the requirements for specialised offences courts in terms of personnel and infrastructure.

Rape Crisis Advocacy Coordinator, Jeanne Bodenstein, outlining the requirements for specialised offences courts.

Volunteers had the opportunity to role play telling someone else about why specialised sexual offences courts are so important.


The group meets again in June to further the discussions and plan the way forward with the campaign in collaboration with spokespersons from the communities.

This work is funded by Oxfam Germany and the BMZ. Oxfam Full Logo Vertical Green