I know you know all about the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign, because you’ve liked them on Facebook and you’re following them on Instagram and Twitter. Just to recap, it’s a project started to hold the government accountable to its promise of more sexual offences courts.
On Friday 25th November, myself, three other students along with a couple of amazing Rape Crisis staff visited Parow Magistrates’ Court to get an insight into specialised Sexual Offences Courts. We’re here in Cape Town all the way from the University of York in England to study the advocacy model that Rape Crisis is developing.
On Friday morning we turned up at Parow Court armed with a checklist, a camera and a whole bunch of questions. Our first step was to meet Monica, a Rape Crisis court supporter. Her job is really invaluable as she talks survivors through every step of the trial process, equipping them with the knowledge which then empowers them to go into the court room and give their testimony. Everything at Rape Crisis revolves around trying to prevent secondary trauma to survivors, and the advice that court supporters provide including how to avoid looking at the defendant during your testimony sounds very useful on that front.
A quick tour outside so that we could check that Parow court met good standards of cleanliness and state of repair, and then we got to see the separate waiting rooms for adult and child witnesses. A separate waiting room gives them a few minutes of calm before entering the court room. The waiting rooms are set up with magazines, televisions and toys, to make the whole ordeal just that bit more pleasant and help the waiting go more quickly.
We were lucky enough to get to meet a specialist prosecutor during our tour. This is another fantastic thing about specialised Sexual Offences Courts; the prosecutors only deal with sexual offences, and have received specific training surrounding rape and sexual assault myths and understand the complexities of the Sexual Offences Act. Even the magistrates here are specially trained on these types of cases as well as the procedural aspects of the law!
I found the hardest part of our tour was our meeting with the court intermediary. With a background as a social worker, his job mostly involves working with children in order to lessen secondary trauma during their trial, although he also works with adults with mental disabilities. He is the contact person between the magistrate, prosecutor and child, and acts as a kind of “translator” to put courtroom questions into terms that the child can understand and feel comfortable with. On the day of the trial the child or vulnerable adult doesn’t go into the courtroom and instead sits in a specialised room with the intermediary, who can hear court proceedings through an ear piece and relay questions. The intermediary’s room and the court room are connected via closed circuit television (CCTV), so that when the time comes, the cameras can be briefly turned on to allow the child to identify that the defendant is indeed the perpetrator of the crime in question. As awful as it is that there is a need for a special room for child survivors, I am so glad that such a clever system is in place to prevent any further trauma. Having seen this set up, I can’t believe that it hasn’t been rolled out worldwide and that many countries still force children to be in the courtroom during proceedings.
Overall, this was a really eye-opening experience. There is no question in my mind as to the need for the RSJC Campaign, bringing in more specialised Sexual Offences Courts and reducing both the time it takes for a rape case to get through the trial and the secondary trauma that a survivor faces when taking their case to court. If you want to help Rape Crisis with this goal, you can follow RSJC on Facebook, Twitter, add your name to the RSJC mailing list or DONATE to the campaign.
Kate Every, Ari Bakke, Fiona Garvey and Hannah Smith are students from the University of York doing their masters in Applied Human Rights. Here volunteering for Rape Crisis, they’ve also spent a lot of their free time on Table Mountain with their new friends, Selasi and Cassi the dassies.