Working towards making sexual offences courts a reality

We love big ideas. The big plans that make us believe that things can be better and that the world can become a better place.

The RSJC ‘big idea’ is that South Africa can reduce the number of rapes committed by increasing the conviction rates of these crimes and achieving stronger sentences for perpetrators. We believe that this goal can be achieved through the planned rollout of specialised sexual offences courts, which is why we advocate to hold our government accountable to the rollout of these courts. We believe that these specialised sexual offences courts are the key to restoring faith in the criminal justice system by decreasing the secondary victimisation of rape survivors, and in so doing increasing conviction rates for rape.

But in the real world, without the details, ‘big ideas’ cannot be achieved, and in order to see our ‘big idea’ realised the first step is to get the primary legislative framework for sexual offences courts in place. However; this legislation cannot come into operation and cannot function without the implementation of secondary legislation in the form of regulations that detail how to implement the primary legislation.

The primary legislation we lobbied for was signed into law in the second half of 2017 and the Department of Justice released the Draft Regulations on Sexual Offences Courts in December 2017 for public comment. This Draft Regulations document consisted of 54 regulations with several subsections and we provided the Department of Justice with detailed written comments on the regulations.

Making change often includes a lot of behind the scenes work before any “in front of the scenes” work can happen. This time the behind the scenes work was lobbying the Department of Justice to include the RSJC as members of civil society and experts in the field. Gaining the acceptance of our request to be included meant that we had a legitimate opportunity to drive the change we are working towards.

We therefore scrupulously worked through all 54 regulations and their subsections and put forward our comments and recommendations on each regulation to the Department of Justice at a meeting that took place the 26th March 2018 in Pretoria.

This meeting saw the RSJC team working with the Department of Justice, the National Prosecuting Authority, the South African Police Service and the Department of Social Development to finalise the regulations for sexual offences courts. We worked through much of the detail with the aim of ensuring that the final regulations would result in money being spent on specialist services and personnel, as well as court infrastructure that will reduce secondary trauma to rape survivors. We believe that it is these kinds of details that will ultimately make it possible for survivors to experience a supportive criminal justice system.

We view a meeting of this nature as a massive win for the RSJC campaign and on a personal level this is the reason why I do this work. Being in the room, influencing decisions about the details that will make sexual offences courts a reality, and helping to ensure better support for survivors, is what makes big plans come to life.

 

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Jeanne Bodenstein is the coordinator of the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign for the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust.

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Raising awareness of the importance of sexual offences courts

Rape survivors who are well supported in court make good witnesses. Good witnesses help achieve convictions and strong sentencing of rapists. And high conviction rates and strong sentences send a clear message to society that violence against women will not be tolerated. This upholds and defends the right of all people in South Africa to live free from violence, and supports improved gender equality in our country.

Here at the Rape Survivors Justice Campaign (RSJC) we advocate for the planned and funded roll out of sexual offences courts across the country by our government. We believe that in order to reduce the number of rapes committed in South Africa, we need special courts that can deal with sexual offences more effectively.

We believe that these specialised courts are the key to restoring faith in the criminal justice system by decreasing the secondary victimisation of rape survivors, and in so doing increasing conviction rates for rape and achieving stronger sentences for convicted rapists.

We believe that government should be held accountable for making sure that all survivors of sexual violence have access to a sexual offences court.

What is a Sexual Offences Court? 

Sexual offences courts are special court rooms that only deal with sexual offences such as rape. They provide special services and support to rape survivors and other witnesses.

In 2013, a new Sexual Offences Court model was developed that sets out the requirements of sexual offences courts such as the need for specially trained personnel including prosecutors, court supporters and magistrates.

The infrastructure of sexual offences courts must be designed in such a way that the survivor does not suffer secondary trauma from being in the court building as it can be very traumatising for a survivor to share a waiting area, or even to walk past the perpetrator prior to testifying, for example. The Sexual Offences Court model also stipulates the need for a special court room with a separate testifying room with CCTV equipment so that children and other vulnerable witnesses can testify and not have to see the perpetrator while they talk about what happened.

Why sexual offences courts are important:

These courts are important as they are sensitive to the survivor and help to:

  • make the trauma of a survivor much less
  • speed up cases so they are completed more quickly
  • make better court decisions or judgements because the people working in these courts are experts that are very skilled and experienced
  • give more people hope that reporting rape will work out well, so more rape survivors will report their cases to the police
  • get more convictions and send more perpetrators to jail

In pursuit of this goal, the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign has focused on the roll out of specialised sexual offences courts as well as the criteria for defining these courts and the laws that govern and regulate the establishment and functioning of these courts. We plan to implement a lobbying, advocacy and digital media strategy that will see government roll out ten new sexual offences courts per year over the next three years.

 

The Rape Crisis Team 

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