The Rape Survivors Justice Campaign

What is the Rape Survivors Justice Campaign?

We believe that rape survivors who are well supported in court make good witnesses. Good witnesses help achieve convictions and stronger sentencing of rapists. High conviction rates and strong sentences send a clear message to society that sexual violence will not be tolerated. These beliefs uphold and defend the right of all people in South Africa to live free from violence and support improved gender equality in our country.

The Rape Survivors Justice Campaign (RSJC) advocates for the planned and funded rollout of sexual offences courts across South Africa by the government.

The RSJC believes that the South African Government should be held accountable for making sure that all survivors of sexual violence have access to a sexual offences court.

Why is the Rape Survivors Justice Campaign important?

South Africa has one of the highest rates of rape in the world. We also have high levels of poverty and a very big difference between rich and poor in our country. These factors mean that rape survivors get very different kinds of support after being a victim of a sexual offence, depending on what community they live in and which police station they report the offence to.

We need more support in the criminal justice system so rape survivors will feel comfortable when reporting a crime.

“We need more support in the criminal justice system so rape survivors will feel comfortable when reporting a crime.”

Police do not always investigate a rape case properly. Even if the perpetrator is arrested, when it gets to court the survivor may be too distressed to answer questions from the prosecutor, magistrate, and defence attorneys.

Many victims find it very difficult to tell their story as they would want it heard. This is one of the biggest reasons why very few perpetrators are actually convicted and sentenced in court. Our research has shown that the government has also identified that improvements in the system are needed. In fact, the Department of Justice has promised to establish sexual offences courts across the country. But will the government make a strong enough effort to make this promise a reality?

Without higher conviction rates and stronger sentencing, the number of rape incidents in our country will never be reduced.

What is a sexual offences court?

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

A 2013 report details the Department of Justice’s new model for sexual offences courts, including the need for specialist personnel including specially trained prosecutors, court supporters and magistrates.

The report also notes requirements on the infrastructure of sexual offences court room layouts so that the survivor does not suffer secondary trauma from being in the court building. For example, it can be very traumatic for a survivor to walk past the perpetrator in one of the corridors. A sexual offences court has a special court room with a separate waiting room for witnesses and rape survivors, as well as a special testifying room with CCTV equipment so that children can testify from a separate room and not have to see the perpetrator while they talk about what happened.

Do we have enough specialised sexual offences courts in South Africa currently?

The South African Government has promised to implement sexual offences courts across the country, however; there are currently not enough of these specialised courts to serve the more than 50 000 survivors of rape that come forward to report their cases each year, let alone the many thousands more that do not.

Why these courts are important:

Sexual offences 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 judgments because the people working in these courts are experts
    who are 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.

How can I get involved?

You can get updates about everything that is happening in the Rape Survivors Justice Campaign by following the campaign on Facebook at RSJCampaign. You can also find more information on our website: http://www.rapecrisis.org.za/justice-campaign

Things that you can do to bring about change in your community:

  1. Join us…

Use social media to help us call for the development of sexual offences courts near you, using this information. Share the campaign’s status updates and photos with your friends and followers.

  1. Talk to a group you are part of about advocating for a sexual offences court near you.

This could be a community group, religious group or a group at your work. Tell them about sexual offences courts and the information in this booklet. If they want to join our campaign, let them know how they can learn more about the Rape Survivors Justice Campaign.

Support us

Support the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign today by scanning the SnapScan code and making a donation.

(SnapScan Mobile App is available to download on Google Play and the Apple App Store)

Donate online: https://rapecrisis.org.za/donate/

Find out more on our website: https://rapecrisis.org.za/justice-campaign/

Follow us on Facebook at RSJCampaign https://www.facebook.com/RSJCampaign/?ref=bookmarks 

Follow us on Twitter at @RSJCampaign https://twitter.com/RSJCampaign 

Call the Rape Crisis hotline 021 447 9762

Important Terms:

Advocacy: A series of actions that are done to work for change.

Criminal Justice System: A set of role players and processes set up by governments to control crime and to punish those who commit crime.

Download the RSJC booklet: https://bit.ly/2CY16Hw

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Progress at the Khayelitsha court

The Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign has been working for almost two years advocating for the establishment of a sexual offences court at the Khayelitsha court. While the advocacy and engagement process is never easy we feel we have made some steady progress in working towards this goal. As we plan our next protest to advocate for sexual offences courts during the 16 Days of Activism campaign we thought we would reflect on just how far we have come since we started this project in 2016.

Early on in the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign we, together with community members, expressed support for the establishment of a sexual offences court in Khayelitsha. During the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence in December 2016 we gathered as a community in front of the Khayelitsha court to demand a dedicated sexual offences court be built. At the end of our protest during 16 Days of Activism, we handed over a memorandum to this effect to the Department of Justice.

The current court supporter office is a container, which is located outside of the Khayelitsha court fence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2017 the situation at the Khayelitsha court did not change and we realised that we were going to have to gather there again to voice our demands for a sexual offences court. During the course of 2017 we lobbied the Deputy Minister of Justice to accept our memorandum at our gathering in December 2017. Upon receipt of the memorandum, the Deputy Minister expressed his intention to seriously explore the possibilities of establishing a sexual offences court in Khayelitsha.

As a result of our demands the Deputy Minister asked that the Gender Health and Justice Research Unit (GHJRU) include Khayelitsha in their study on improved case outcomes in sexual offences. We offered to assist with this, specifically focusing on the fieldwork at Khayelitsha taking place in January 2018. We also placed the issue of the office space currently occupied by our court supporter on the forefront of the agenda as something that should be addressed.

During our fieldwork, we reviewed more than 100 sexual offence court dockets. The outcome of this will be covered in a report that will be released by the GHJRU.

The Deputy Minister of Justice visited the Khayelitsha court again during February 2018, with the specific aim of improving the infrastructure of the courtroom and surrounding facilities that are used to hear sexual offences cases.

We enlisted the help of architect Tiffany Melles, from Michelle Sandilands Architects, who agreed to work pro-bono to design the improvements for the court. We then drafted a report and sent it to the Regional Head of the Department of Justice setting out the background, problem statement and recommendations. Our advocacy coordinator, court support coordinator, architect, Khayelitsha Court Manager, Area Court Manager and Senior Public Prosecutor at Khayelitsha met on 11 May 2018, so that we could discuss the plans and draft the report with them. They were very enthusiastic about the proposed changes. Following this meeting the plans and report were sent to the Regional Head and Deputy Minister.

This is the courtyard of the Khayelitsha court where we propose two new units for the sexual offences court supporters should be placed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we await the plans to be approved and implemented, the Department of Justice has prepared an interim office for the court supporter by partitioning a section of the intermediary room. This was done for safety purposes as the previous court supporter room was outside of the court security fence.

Our court support coordinator and advocacy coordinator have met with the Regional Head (Hishaam Mohamed) and two of his staff who work on court facilities. We convinced them that the mobile units together with the minor capital works proposed in our report and plans will, in fact, provide them with a long-term solution. Once the Regional Head and his team understood the logic of the plans, they seemed enthusiastic about our plans for the court. We want this court model to be the pilot for the country of the use of mobile units. As we stand now the Department is in the process of getting quotes for the ‘building’ works and we are in the process of getting quotes for the mobile units.

We are so pleased to have had such positive engagement with stakeholders as this project has progressed and look forward to working with the Department of Justice to make our vision for this court a reality.

Download our report: Report on Recommended Changes to Khayelitsha Court Supporter Office. 

Take a look at our proposed plans for the Khayelitsha sexual offences court here: RSJC Khayelitsha Sexual Offences Court plans.

 

The real numbers on sexual offences

In South Africa less than 1% of sexual offences result in justice for the victims of these crimes. The estimated number of sexual offences in South Africa is 645 580 each year and only one in 13 of these sexual offences are reported to the police. In other words, only 7,7% of sexual offences that take place are reported to police while 92,3% are unreported.

In 2017, 49 660 sexual offences were reported to the police and of these only 6 868 were prosecuted. So only 13,8% of cases that are reported are taken to court. (For more details on why this is the case read our article.)

Of the 6 868 cases that were prosecuted, 5 001 cases resulted in convictions.

5 001 convictions for 645 580 sexual offences crimes means that the actual percentage of sexual offence crimes that are convicted is 0,77%. We want this to change. That is why we are fighting for sexual offences courts

Statistics breakdown:

Estimated sexual offences in South Africa each year: 645 580

Number of reported sexual offences in South Africa per year (2017): 49 660

Number of sexual offence cases that were prosecuted in South Africa in one year: 6 868

Number of sexual offence cases that resulted in convictions: 5 001

Actual percentage of sexual offence crimes that are convicted: 0,77%

Resources: National Prosecuting Authority 2018/19 Annual Performance Plan: https://pmg.org.za/committee-meeting/26249/ Crime Stats SA: https://www.crimestatssa.com/national.php

The War at Home – Gender Based Violence Indicators Project, 1 November 2012: http://genderlinks.org.za/programme-web-menu/publications/the-war-at-home-gbv-indicators-project-2011-08-16/

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

 

 

Why people make a difference to the experience of survivors

Previously we wrote about the space created for discussion as we partnered with the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Law and Society to host a panel discussion on developing court models in South Africa. However, it was not only the space that we were grateful for, but also the content of the discussion.

As the three researchers, Lisa Vetten, Dr Aisling Heath, and Karen Hollely, shared some key findings from their work and presented their opinions to the people that attended, there was a very clear golden thread tying together their findings: people. When victims of sexual offences were interviewed during research conducted by the Child Witness Institute, it was clear that people’s experience of the criminal justice system and sexual offences court depends on the people that work in the court and how supportive they are. This was the same for when magistrates and prosecutors were interviewed about working in sexual offences courts – justice is dispensed by people and who those people are, matter greatly.

As survivors experience the criminal justice system, they experience people. The prosecutor who interviews them and who leads their testimony. The interpreter translating their testimony. The magistrate acting as the presiding officer. And the court supporter, holding the survivor through the process. Clearly the criminal justice system is not some far away “system” devoid of human interaction.
Clearly the criminal justice system IS people.

The question then is how do we make sure that we have the right people who will not only limit secondary trauma suffered by the survivor, but will also ensure that justice is served and that perpetrators are convicted? Fortunately, research (like what was presented at this panel discussion) can provide enormous help in this regard and the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign uses this information when lobbying government for the rollout of sexual offences courts.

We are currently lobbying the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development to finalise the Regulations for Sexual Offences Courts. The regulations provide the minimum requirements for a sexual offences court to exist, including the people that should work at such a court. One of the issues that we lobbied for, is the inclusion of court supporters in the requirements for sexual offences court. We hear what researchers say about the importance of the right people providing support to survivors in the criminal justice system and we could use this information to lobby for specialised court supporters provided by Non-Profit Organisations and funded by the Department of Social Development. Although the regulations have not been finalised, we are very positive that specialised court supporters will be included.

The powerful thing about research then, is when words come to life. When research is used to make real-life changes in legislation and people’s experience of courts, that is when we know positive change is happening.

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