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.


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About rapecrisisblog

We have a vision of a South Africa in which rape survivors suffer no secondary trauma, and are supported throughout their interaction with the Criminal Justice System (CJS). Our mission is to promote an end to violence against women, specifically rape, and to assist women to achieve their right to live free from violence. Rape Crisis Cape Town seeks to achieve its mission through counselling and training of women, thereby reducing the trauma experienced by rape survivors, and encouraging reporting of rape and the conviction of rapists.

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