Be a Proud Slacktivist this 16 Days

By Jeanne Bodenstein

Have you ever wanted to attend a demonstration from the comfort of your own home? To be an arm chair activist without shame? We have the answer to your wish.

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Sexual offences courts now! (Photo:Alexa Sedge)

The end of the year is marked by Christmas lights in our local shopping malls, year-end functions and the 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women.  During the 16 Days of Activism, people from around the world find ways to actively express their discontent with the high rates of violence against women and sexual violence in particular. This is a chance for people to stand in solidarity with survivors of rape and other forms of sexual violence.

This year, the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign will use this opportunity to advocate for better support for survivors of rape and sexual violence in the courts. Specialised courts ensure that survivors are supported by specialised personnel, services and infrastructure with access to intermediaries and counselling support at moment of intense uncertainty and fear. Research has shown that this court model increases conviction rate in rape cases as well as reducing secondary trauma to survivors by making sure the support is there when needed most.

Our government has planned and budgeted for the rollout of these courtrooms. Our campaign intends to hold them accountable for doing so.

You can help us by supporting our actions during the 16 Days. We will host a community workshop to raise awareness and share information about these courts and about our campaign. This will be followed by a demonstration to demand a sexual offences courtroom to be established at Khayelitsha Regional Court.

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RSJC  will hand over a memorandum at Khayelitsha court. (Photo: Alexa Sedge)

We need your support.

You can get involved by donating to our campaign and with your contribution we will create placards to use at the public demonstration out side Khayelitsha Court with the following messages:

“Sexual offences courts now”

“We need the right criminal justice system”

“Access to justice”

“Support in every court”

“Better support for survivors”

“Justice for all rape survivors now!”

With your support we will also hand over this memorandum to the Deputy Minister of Justice and to the Khayelitsha Court manager to demand a sexual offences courtroom to serve the community of Khayelitsha.

If you would like to support us by joining us at the public demonstration, please like our Facebook page to be informed of the details of the event. Join us to demand better justice for all survivors.

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Jeanne Bodenstein is the coordinator of the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign.

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Section 55 What??

By Kathleen Dey

I am having such a bad attack of FOMO right now. Today a National Forum on the Implementation of the Sexual Offences Act concludes its deliberations in Johannesburg and while activists from all over the sector are there I am not. And they are all being very quiet about the content of their discussions, out of respect for our colleagues in government and the spirit of the dialogue.

This National Forum is convened by the Department of Justice with the backing of the Deputy Minister John Jeffery and organised by a steering committee that included members of the Shukumisa Coalition representing civil society. What makes this gathering unique is that the 250 delegates include not only members of civil society organisations, government departments and state services providers such as the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) but also members of the judiciary. Since magistrates play a critical role in the adjudication of sexual offences cases and are often not represented in these kinds of discussion this is a huge bonus. My Fear of Missing Out grows as I write.

Yesterday’s programme included the presentation of critical research by research institutes such as the South African Medical Research Council’s recently released report entitled Rape Justice in South Africa. The combined presentations pointed to current problem areas within the areas of reporting, investigation, medicolegal services, support to survivors, prosecution and adjudication of sexual offences cases. There was, unusually, no question time or commentary in this plenary. This was followed by breakaway sessions where government officials and state service providers were given opportunities to provide further information on these problem areas in a more in depth fashion. The overall approach of the ensuing discussion was designed to be solution focused, with civil society organisation offering constructive criticism and recommending solutions designed to benefit all stakeholders.

The current political and economic situation in South Africa is so severe that we believe that we are unlikely to see the kind of resource mobilisation we would like to see in support of improved implementation of the Sexual Offences Act. In fact over the past decade we have seen a significant reversal in the gains that were made prior to that in putting infrastructure, personnel, training and services in place. There has been a marked decline rather than the consistent improvement reported by government. Sexism, racism and attitudes that lead to secondary victimisation of complainants continues to be a problem.

Statistics and reporting are unclear and inconsistent, which makes it very difficult to monitor progress towards set goals. In fact our current crime statistics give a false impression of excellence, showing a decrease in incidents when this is not the case. Strategies based on these misleading findings are in danger of failing as they are not based on an accurate analysis of the situation.

Performance indicators for officials within the criminal justice system are not successfully promoting good performance neither are they entirely useful as mechanisms for holding individuals or departments accountable. Some provide a perverse incentive in that they encourage poor performance when for example members of the SAPS are measured by the decrease in reported rape statistics when in fact they should be encouraging reporting. Management structures are weak and leadership is lacking. These factors combine to make oversight very difficult.

These flaws can be seen in the roll out of the promised sexual offences courts, an issue right at the top of the agenda of the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign. There are sexual offences courts where there is specialised infrastructure in place but not enough skilled and experienced personnel and no services, sometimes meaning that there is a lack of psychosocial care for survivors. Section 55A of the Judicial Matters Amendment Bill, which would allow for the Minister of Justice to establish these courts and set certain criteria for these courts has not yet been operationalised even though the president has signed this new law. There are no minimum standards for sexual offences courts and no sexual offences court regulations in place as yet.

A focus on the sexual offences court roll out may help government to tackle problems with courts as well as police and forensic investigations since the idea that specialist personnel would work together could best be promoted with these courts as “centres of excellence” linked to surrounding Thuthuzela Care Centres, forensic units and Family violence, Child abuse and Sexual offences (FCS) Units. We should therefore focus on the following suggestions for government role players at the upcoming national forum:

1. Section 55A of the Judicial Matters Amendment Bill must be operationalised as soon as possible.

2. Civil society organisations need to be given a chance to give input into the minimum standards on sexual offences courts as well as the regulations.

In addition to this we need to recommend that:

1. The functioning of the relevant departments and service providers within the criminal justice system be evaluated by the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME) in order to develop an improvement plan that will give rise to revised performance indicators.

2. Clear, consistent, disaggregated, integrated statistics are collected, collated and shared.

In the meantime, in the absence of improved performance indicators, we need to see competent officials concentrated within centres of excellence so that infrastructure, personnel and services can come together as they should. Let us hope that this incredible National Forum meeting will deliver at least some hope that these suggestions will be taken up and driven forward with the commitment they deserve.

 

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Kathleen Dey is director of the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust. 

The numbers of change: If you don’t like numbers, then this blog is for you

The Indian writer and mathematical genius, Shakuntala Devi, once said “Numbers have life, they’re not just symbols on paper”.

I realise that some of you reading this, might not care about numbers at all. Unless you are an accountant. Or a maths teacher. Or someone that is into Soduku. But, to be honest, I do like numbers. And I like the stories that they tell. And such a story I found in an unlikely place last week…

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I attended the meeting of the parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services where the Department of Justice presented their Annual Report for the year of 2016/2017. This is an opportunity for the Department to tell the Committee if their targets have been achieved and to present proof in numbers.

Side note: A large part of the parliamentary Portfolio Committees’ role is to oversee the work of the National Executive (i.e. various government departments) and you will know that I am always interested in how parliament does this.

It is easy to attend a meeting like the one last week and not even see the specifics when the numbers flash by (at record speed, mind you). Overwhelming numbers. But, interested as I am, I look for the stories behind the numbers so that I can share them with you, obviously. One such story, was the story about sexual offences courts. The Department told the Committee that 11 courtrooms across provinces were upgraded to sexual offences courtrooms during the past year, completing the first phase of the rollout.

This number tells the story of the rural community of Tsolo, Eastern Cape, where survivors now have access to specialised services to help them get through the difficult process of giving their testimony in court. The magistrate and prosecutors at this court have been specially trained to deal with sexual offences and the court room is designed in such a way that rape survivors will not have to wait in the same waiting room as the accused or his supporters, child witnesses will be able to give their testimony in a separate room using Closed Circuit Television and support services will have their own offices to offer confidential support to rape survivors and other witnesses for the state. Cases will be processed and finalised more quickly because only sexual offences cases will be heard in this court room.

Added to this, 106 more courtrooms will be upgraded in the second phase of the rollout, bringing the total sexual offences courtrooms to 163 at the end of phase two. This is huge, because it means that more than half of the total number of regional courts across the country will have sexual offences courtrooms. More than half of the survivors of sexual violence in South Africa will receive support in the criminal justice system.

By looking for the stories that these numbers tell, the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign can continue to ask the right questions of the relevant people at the right time. We will continue to hold government accountable for the rollout of sexual offences courts, so that rape survivors can tell their stories in supportive courtrooms and in the presence of supportive people. And we will continue to ask for more numbers until the story they tell is that our government has honoured its promise. You can follow us on Facebook to read more of our stories of change and to share this with your friends.

 

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Jeanne Bodenstein

Jeanne is the Advocacy Coordinator at the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust and heads the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign. She likes wine, pizza and recently rediscovered her love for mystery novels.

Silent Protest – Break the silence, stop the violence against women (Rhodes University, 23 March)

On Friday 23 March over 1400 protestors, both women and men, will participate in the 6th annual ‘Sexual Violence = Silence’ Protest. The protest, organised by the Rhodes University Dean of Students’ Office, aims to show solidarity with rape survivors who are silenced by sexual violence. Both staff and students have participated in previous years.

For the past 6 years student activists at Rhodes University have staged this protest in order to draw public attention to rape and to demand better services for survivors.

The majority of women protestors will be silenced using black gaffer tape, and will be unable to speak, eat or drink water for over 12 hours as a sign of their solidarity with the silence of rape in the national discourse and the silencing of rape survivors. Those survivors that are brave and empowered enough will speak out about the crimes committed against them by wearing shirts describing them as “Rape Survivors”. Over eighty women wore this shirt last year.

We are protesting against the statistic that 1 in 20 rape survivors will report their rape for fear of social stigma and secondary victimisation by the South African judicial system. According to the collated figures in South African Police Service crime stat reports between 2008 and 2011, after the Sexual Offences Act came into effect, over 205 000 sexual offences were reported, of which just under over 165 500 just rape. If only 1 in 20 survivors of sexual abuse reports their rape, then over 4-million South Africans suffered some form of sexual violation in the last 5 years. Similarly, over 3,3-million South Africans were raped.

These numbers are unacceptable. Rape limits human potential; it silences people, makes them feel less than human, keeps them afraid and creates isolation. Our protest on the 23rd of March affirms our solidarity with the 19 in 20 women silenced by rape and sexual violence. Freedom of Speech is denied to victims of sexual violence. Despite the laws and policies that have been put in place, patriarchal attitudes and misogynist practice render laws and policies meaningless in the lives of many rape survivors. Survivors face victim-blaming, secondary victimisation and social stigma when they speak out about the violence they have experienced. State service providers do not always respect the rights of rape survivors and fail to comply with norms and standards set out in national legislation and policy; these are just some of the reasons why reporting of rape cases remains low.

The judicial system’s disregard for rape survivors is most aptly exemplified by the Sowetan’s recent report that a rape survivor was forced to wait nine years for justice, and her case was delayed a total of 48 times.  The Department of Justice Director-General Nonkululeko Sindane apologised to the survivor for her ordeal 15 months after an order to do so by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela. Sindane then said the department would not compensate the survivor for her trauma (despite an order from Madonsela) as “no crime was committed against her”, according to the Sowetan report.

PRESS CONFERENCE

We will be hosting a press conference at the Student Union building in seminar room 1 at 1pm on Tuesday, 20 March. All local journalists, photographers, TV crews are encouraged to attend.

PURPOSE OF THE PROTEST:

  1. to highlight the state’s silence around sexual violence and its inability or unwillingness to support rape survivors and successfully prosecute rapists.
  2. to symbolise all rape survivors whose voices are silenced by rape and to represent the 19 in 20 rape survivors who do not report their violation.

FORMAT OF THE PROTEST:

There are FOUR different kinds of participation in the day-long protest on 23 March:

  • Silent women: T-shirts with ‘sexual violence causes silence’ on the front & explanation on the back (gagged all day, no food or water)
  • Rape survivors: T-shirts with ‘rape survivor’ on the front & explanation on the back
  • Men in solidarity: T-shirts with ‘solidarity with women who speak out’ on the front & explanation on the back
  • Women staff members & students with health issues: T-shirts with ‘solidarity with women who speak out’ on the front & explanation on the back

PROGRAMME

06h00    Gather at Alec Mullins Hall on Friday 23 March.

06h00 – 07h00   T-shirt distribution

07h00 – 07h15   Briefing and address by organiser

07h15 – 07h45   SILENCING

07h45 – 08h15   Group photos in front of Main Admin of ALL, then SILENCED, SURVIVORS and MEN IN SOLIDARITY.

08h30 – 12h30   Lectures & tutorials as usual. Protesters to remain visible.

12h30 – 14h00   DIE-IN outside the Rhodes University admin building. ALL (silenced, survivors & men is solidarity) PROTESTERS GATHER.

14h00 – 17h00   Lectures & tutorials as usual.

17h00 – 17h30   ALL volunteers gather outside Main Admin and process from via Drostdy Arch down High Street to the Cathedral

17h30                    ADDRESS BY ORGANISER & BREAKING THE SILENCE!

17h30 – 20h00   Debriefing, discussion & reflection

20h00 – 20h30   GAP ‘Take Back the Night’ March

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:

Michelle Solomon

Media liaison, Silent Protest

michelleHsolomon@gmail.com

072 396 8302