This is the story of a survivor who brought 10 rapists to justice

It’s also the story of one of our country’s specialist sexual offences courts and how this court helped her do it.

Walking home from a friend’s house one Sunday afternoon nineteen year old Dalia realised she was going to be home later than she had told her parents.  Taking a short cut through an abandoned building , she surprised a group of gangsters smoking tik.

All 10 of them raped her. All 10 of them were known to her.

She finally made it home very late to her frantic parents. Even though they were all afraid of how they might be intimidated, Dalia’s parents supported her wish to report the men to the police.

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Rape Crisis Court Support Administrator, Estelle Carolissen (right) guides and supports rape survivors on the road to justice. (Photo: Alexa Sedgwick)

The Rape Crisis court supporter for Cape Town sexual offences court that day was Estelle. She and Dalia then met with the specially trained state prosecutor for her case. In the separate waiting room for rape case complainants, Estelle explained what the court expected of Dalia and how the trial would proceed. It was only when she showed Dalia round the empty court room, that she asked how many men had been accused.

If there are 10 accused in a trial then the rape survivor has to tell her story to the court 10 times.

Hearing this, Dalia broke down, and said she couldn’t go through with it. But Estelle took her straight to the prosecutor’s office and requested that Dalia be allowed to give her evidence in a separate room via closed circuit television (CCTV), so that she would not have to face any of the accused in court.

Each day as she gave her testimony in the weeks that went by, Estelle sat beside her, and held her when she cried until she was calm enough to continue. She also kept Dalia in the intermediary room until the accused rapists and their defence teams had left the court before bringing her out to her waiting parents.

All 10 men had been behind bars awaiting trial since their arrest. All 10 were found guilty. All 10 were sentenced to more than 20 years in jail. Dalia said she could never have done it without Estelle.

The Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign will hold the South African government to its promise to establish specialised sexual offences courts across South Africa. All rape survivors deserve access to a separate waiting room, to CCTV if the case warrants it, to the expertise of a specialist prosecutor, to skilled interpreters and specially trained magistrates. They all deserve to be supported by someone like Estelle.

You can donate to the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign right now by clicking here.

You can sign up to support the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign here. And you can also share this appeal and follow the campaign on Facebook and Twitter.

By making your donation here you can help us to make sure that rape survivors are properly supported, and that more rapists are convicted, as well as help to make our criminal justice system stronger. Thank you.

The 9 Lives of South Africa’s Criminal Justice System

South Africa’s criminal justice system is confusing. Not because it is littered jargon about clauses and by-laws (any self-respecting Suits and The Good Wife fan can figure that out) but rather because of its vacillating treatment of those in pursuit of justice.

Roughly between 4% and 8% of reported sexual violence cases ends in conviction. This is not because perpetrators have Harvey Spectre-esque defence teams that ruthlessly and lawlessly fight for their client’s innocence. Instead, the system itself is letting survivors down.

However, with the case of the ‘Rhodes Memorial Rapist’, it seems that the Criminal Justice System seems to have undergone some kind of reincarnation. Mthunzi Hlomane was sentenced to 9 life sentences which effectively means he will be behind bars for a total of 108 years. It seems that in this life, the Criminal Justice System is capable of successfully delivering justice to survivors of sexual violence. The whole case was resolved before the end of the year, the punishment fits the crime, a bad man will be behind bars for the rest of his life and—as Judge Mushtak Parker said—this process will help the survivors find closure “sooner rather than later”. The National Prosecuting Authority was also available for comment saying that this sentence “confirms our resolve to prioritise crimes against women and children and sexual violence”. It all sounds great and doable and faith in our justice system can be restored. Long live the Criminal Justice System (for this life, anyway)!

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Image Source: Pinterest

 

But the truth is, our Criminal Justice System remains a cat-astrophe at the moment, especially in handling sexual violence cases. Prosecutors, court staff and magistrates are not sensitive to the realities of survivors. This means that the physical court itself and the system as a whole acts as a site of secondary trauma. And while many survivors decide to tackle a court case in a bid to find healing, these conditions are not conducive to recovery. Instead, survivors often find themselves in close physical proximity to their perpetrators, are aggressively accused of lying by the defence team and are subject to victim-blaming biases asserted by insensitive court staff.

With this in mind, in 2013 the South African government developed a model to roll out special Sexual Offences Courts that are specifically designed to be safe spaces for survivors and mediate any secondary traumatisation in the aftermath of rape. These courts are designed to mitigate and manage case delays, better skill court personnel so that better judgments can be made and sensitive treatment of survivors can be guaranteed. The infrastructure of the sexual offences court is designed so that the survivor does not have to come into contact with the perpetrator as the court includes separate waiting areas and a separate testifying room.

Rolling out more sexual offences courts will ensure that survivors have a more paw-sitive experience when going through the criminal justice system and will hopefully mean higher conviction rates, less secondary trauma and a social culture that makes the criminal justice system accessible to those it purports to support.

The recent conviction of the Rhodes Memorial Serial Rapist has illustrated that the potential is there to successfully prosecute perpetrators of sexual violence. The National Prosecuting Authority said that they hope “that this sentence will send a message to victims that the NPA is committed in the fight against sexual violence and will further participate in the coming 16 days of activism in an attempt to raise awareness against this cruelty”. But girls as young as 6 years old know more about their potential to be raped than their potential to succeed. So consider us aware, Mr NPA. Now is the time for action and change. Hopefully in this lifetime survivors of sexual violence can get justice.

 

Take action!

The Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign is a Rape Crisis Advocacy project started to hold government accountable to its promise of more sexual offences courts. Show your support by signing up HERE and liking the RSJC page on Facebook.

 

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Ronel Koekemoer

Ronel is a volunteer counsellor at Rape Crisis and is studying History at UCT. In her spare time she likes to read, knit and visit the love of her life, Yoshi the sea turtle, at the Two Oceans Aquarium. 

 

An Afternoon With the WAR Campaign Continued

A few days ago I wrote a blog about my experiences observing a workshop run by the WAR Campaign of Hillsong Church. Unfortunately the next two workshops we were meant to do were cancelled as we were on our way there, much to all of our disappointment. Nonetheless I returned home from the workshop we did do with a lot to think about: the approach of the WAR Campaign and how it compares to the Peer Educators program I have been involved in through Rape Crisis, my outlook on religion and how religion can influence social development, and lastly the gap between services and the community.

 

It was interesting for me to visit the schools with the WAR Campaign and compare and contrast this approach to Rape Crisis’ Peer Educators program. The Peer Educators program is developed by Rape Crisis to, “develop young leaders who help to create positive social norms amongst youth and provide help for learners who have been, or are in danger of, being raped.” The approaches of the two organizations are very different. The Peer Educators program works with one school three hours a day, three days a week, over the course of five weeks, whereas the WAR Campaign visits multiple schools to deliver 30 minute presentations over the course of one week each month. Both organizations intend to increase awareness and to educate communities in South Africa about rape and both organizations have gained great recognition and have seen great success. When comparing the two, some questions arose in my mind. I wondered how the age of the presenters of each program might influence the high school student’s perspective and attention. As I mentioned before, the members of the WAR Campaign were all in their 20’s whereas the women involved in the Peer Educators program are middle aged. When witnessing both organizations, age seemed to have no influence. The high school students in both programs were attentive and able to relate to the presenters regardless of age.

Next, as I stated in my previous blog post, I am not a religious person and do not identify with a particular religion. My relationship with religion is a bit complicated. I was raised in the United States in a Catholic family where we attended mass every Sunday and said grace at dinner each night. Aside from this, religion wasn’t a huge focal point in my everyday life. I didn’t make decisions based on what Jesus would do or how the Catholic church would view it. As I grew older I began to lose interest in the Catholic church and soon going to church became something that was forced upon me. Each Sunday soon became a battle between my mother and I; she really wanted me to keep going to church but to me it seemed like a waste of time since it wasn’t truly serving me in any way. Eventually, she stopped fighting me and simply said that she wanted me to find something spiritual to believe in and have a positive moral guide in my life. I found that with yoga, meditation and through my Holistic Psychology studies in school. This pleased her. I’ve noticed now, however, that when I hear of the Catholic religion some part of me cringes. In the United States there tends to be a lot of extremes with the Catholic religion which have gained significant air time in the media. Some of these include people oppressing the gay community and actively opposing gay marriage backing it with scriptures from the bible, people protesting Planned Parenthood (an organization that, among many other services, provides abortions for unwanted pregnancies) backing it again with religion, and people who were involved in, hid, or protected the many sexual abuse cases between priests and alter boys.

I am in no way saying that this is a reflection of Christianity as a whole, because it very clearly is not, though when I think of Christianity, unfairly, those thoughts arise in my brain. In my opinion, the vast majority of people in the United States have transformed religion into something so far from its initial intention. This is why I was so pleasantly surprised when I began working with the women at Rape Crisis, hearing the stories of the Belgravia High School students in the Peer Educators program, and from the members of the WAR Campaign. In all of the groups mentioned above, religion serves as a symbol of hope, inspiration, and as a driving force in their lives. There doesn’t appear to be this underlying evil or murkiness lying under the surface as is common in the United States. I heard time and time again from multiple people during my time here in Cape Town how religion allowed for them to turn their lives around and strive to be better people. How can you not support that? I’m truly grateful for this lesson alone, because it has allowed me to transform my cynical mindset on faith to instead be more accepting and open.

Lastly, I was considering the gap between services and the community. As I mentioned earlier, there were many schools that had arranged for the WAR Campaign to present but later cancelled. This made me question why they may have cancelled and on a larger scale why services don’t reach the community they are aiming to serve. While speaking with others about this, many people argued that maybe the schools didn’t want to have the presentation because it would be “opening a can of worms.” The presentation would take place, scars would be reopened, and then the presentation is over and the school is left to pick up the mess. I suppose I can understand this perspective, but the WAR Campaign hands out pamphlets raising awareness about the counselling services offered by Rape Crisis and how to get in touch with them. They also partner with rape Crisis to provide an on-site counsellor during the presentation for girls seeking further guidance and support. Therefore, even if the can of worms is opened, there is guidance for where to go and what to do afterwards, they aren’t just allowing the girls to walk off blindly.

By not having the WAR Campaign’s presentation, a school can continue to sweep the issue of rape under the rug. They may be able to live in ignorance, but I argue that it is not a blissful ignorance. As teachers sit there with a blind eye, so many of their students are sitting with unanswered questions and stories burning to be heard. Take the school I described in my previous blog as an example. Ten girls approached the counsellor, and who knows who many others have been affected by rape but weren’t ready to speak up. Again, what if the WAR Campaign hadn’t presented at their school and they weren’t allowed an outlet for their situations? Who knows what would or could have happened to these girls? At the schools who canceled, we won’t know because they haven’t been given the opportunity to speak up. No one wins in that situation.

 

 

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Jen Moran

Jen is an intern in the Training and Development department at Rape Crisis’ Athlone office. She is originally from the smallest state in the United States, and holds a B.S. in Expressive Arts Therapy and Holistic Psychology. She has come to Cape Town in the midst of her soul nourishing journey and continues to be inspired by this magical place.

Athlone Training and Development Volunteer Applications Now Open

Join our dynamic team of Training and Development Volunteers at our Athlone office. Applications close 20 December 2016.

What is the volunteer training program?

  • comprises an experiential training course and probation period
  • the experiential training course is facilitated by experienced Rape Crisis Trainers over approximately 3 months
  • the training course is divided into 3 sections involving Personal Growth, General section (political, social, legal, medical and psychological) and Facilitation/training skills development sections
  • assessment takes place throughout the training course and some participants may decide to withdraw
  • a probation period of 6 months after completion of the experiential training course during which time trainees will facilitate workshops, do talks and information stalls and attend buddy group meetings and focus group meetings
  • at this stage, the training is not SETA/SAQA accredited
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T&D Volunteer, Feroza Booysen facilitating discussion on the myths and stereotypes around rape at Belgravia High. Pic: Alexa Sedgwick.

Our expectations of volunteers are:

  • that you are  18 or over
  • able to commit to a minimum of 8 hours of your time per month
  • able to commit a period of one year once graduated (approximately 9 months after the completion of the training program)
  • able to attend focus group meetings where volunteers contribute ideas and suggestions and get involved more generally in the work at Rape Crisis. The meeting takes place once a month
  • able to attend buddy group meetings over and above the 8 hours and monthly meetings
  • able to attend volunteer forum meetings and general meetings (4 times a year in total)

Our commitment to you

  • to empower you with the knowledge and skills needed to educate the community and support rape survivors through our training course
  • to support you after the training through mentoring and supervision
  • to welcome you into the organization and make available resources and  opportunities that all volunteers have access to
  • to your ongoing development within the Training and Development team
  • to assist your exit from the organization when the occasion arises

The selection process:

  • only fully completed application forms will be considered
  • only applicants who are short-listed for the course will be contacted and invited to attend an interview
  • only a limited number of applicants can be brought into each training program
  • only applicants who attended the interview process will be contacted regarding the success of their application

Course fees:

The cost of the course is R4, 000.00 with a non-refundable registration fee which is R1, 500.00. Payment options are as follows:

  • in full before or on the date of registration – R4, 000.00
  • registration fee and payment over the duration of the experiential training course – R1,500.00 on or before registration plus R833.33 per month for 3 months
  • registration fee and payment over the duration of the experiential training course and probation – R1,500.00 on or before registration plus R277.78 over 9 months
  • registration fee and outsourced sponsorship. Once your application for the training is approved, we can provide you with a letter supporting your appeal – R1,500.00 on or before registration and you seek sponsorship for the remainder of the fees.

One of our Peer Educators, Keagan Bloys, won the Lead SA Youth Hero of the Month Award for the change he’s making challenging rape myths and stereotypes in his community:

Training venues and times:

  • Venue: 335A Klipfontein Road, Grassroots Building, Gatesville, Athlone
  • All training except where specified alongside the date is from 18h00-21h00
  • Training will take place on week nights on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday
  • Closing date for applications: 20 December 2016
  • Course starts: 7 February 2017

 

Please note that transport will be provided for those that live in our service areas. Please note that if you live outside of our service area that you would need your own reliable transport.

To get your application form and for more information, please contact Athlone Training and Development Co-ordinator, Rifqah Abrahams at rifqah@rapecrisis.org.za or call 021 684 1180 (Monday – Friday 9:30 – 4pm).