What makes up a sexual offences court

This is the third in a series of blogs written on the panel discussion we hosted in partnership with the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Law and Society on developing court models in South Africa. As you will know from the previous pieces I have written in this series, the discussion was lively and the researchers presented valuable information.

The idea of sexual offences courts is a home grown South African model, but it had its challenges. The report on the Re-Establishment of Sexual Offences Courts was released in 2013 and highlighted a lot of these challenges. It further tried to address some of these challenges by paying a great deal of attention to the infrastructure of sexual offences courts: the amount of waiting rooms, passages, doors, and chairs. We were of course very excited to see this blue print, simply because it is a thing of beauty.

And then the reality hit. Our state purses are near empty. In most court buildings there is simply no space for multiple waiting rooms and additional passages. There is not enough budget to even afford the number of chairs that the blue print requires. Rural courts do not have the resources to support such an expensive endeavour. This was echoed by the researchers during the panel discussion. While infrastructure is important insofar as it reduces secondary trauma, fancy infrastructure alone does not make a sexual offences court.

We realised that we had to fine tune our demands. Instead of demanding sexual offences courts according to the blue print, of which our government could probably only afford 10, we are lobbying the Department of Justice and others to roll out sexual offences courts across South Africa so that more survivors can access them. We have done this according to a new set of requirements and outlined these in the Regulations on Sexual Offences Courts. While the regulations are still in draft form, we are pushing for them to contain minimum requirements for infrastructure at sexual offences courts that are much less structurally demanding and therefore much more achievable. This has one goal – to reduce secondary trauma suffered by survivors. Because that is what our work boils down to; making the criminal justice system more supportive of survivors.

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

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How to donate intelligently

Around this time of the year, Rape Crisis gets a lot of donations and messages from people asking if they can donate anything useful. We have decided to put together a little guide, so that our supporters can get a better idea of our needs.

It is important to remember all NGOs and NPOs are different, and they do not all have the same needs. Whilst wanting to donate is laudable, and we truly appreciate the intention, we would like to help you be more sensitive and donate intelligently. For instance: here, at Rape Crisis, we have no need for clothes, but a lot of shelters do, so if you have clothes or accessories that you are looking to donate, you could look up some shelters in your area and get in touch to see if they have specific needs for certain items of clothing, or if they will take anything.

We won’t beat around the bush, our principal need is money. In order to keep providing free counselling and services to survivors, we need funds. When you donate R100, for instance, a rape survivor gets a free one hour counselling session. Counselling is a fundamental step for rape survivors, and it is our duty to make sure the right services are provided. Our counsellors are thoroughly trained to help victims become survivors, and help them find their way to recovery and healing. With a monthly R100 donation, a journey begins and can continue.

Moreover, thanks to Rape Crisis’ status as a Public Benefit Organisation, if you are a tax payer and you have donated to us, you may qualify for a tax deduction.

If you are in a place where you can’t donate funds, we also need your time. By volunteering or interning with us, you help ensure the smooth running of operations. Rape Crisis would not be what it is today without its invaluable advocacy volunteers, volunteer counsellors, peer educators or volunteers helping out at events.

In terms of material needs, ours are constantly changing, so it is best to get in touch with us at the time and ask us if what you have to donate (be it cutlery, a microwave, some plates etc) could be of any use to us. At the moment, our Khayelitsha office needs fencing as well as a new toaster, and our Observatory office could use some non-flammable paint, a fire escape ladder and some new kitchen cupboards. In addition to that, we are also in need of 2 Jojo tanks. If you are able to provide any of these items, you are welcome to get in touch with us at zeenat@rapecrisis.org.za or call the offices directly 021 447 1467.

Lina Lechlech was a communications intern at Rape Crisis. She holds a B.A in International Relations and Languages from the University of Greenwich.