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.

 

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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.

Sharing insight to develop better court models

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Spaces where researchers, activists and students can gather to share thoughts, ideas and dreams, are few and far between. That is why we were so grateful and excited when the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Law and Society offered to partner with us to host a panel discussion on developing court models in South Africa.

This discussion was designed to follow on from the National Forum on the Implementation of the Sexual Offences Act that was presented by the Department of Justice at the end of 2017 and where some of the research concerning sexual offences courts was first presented to the public. However, only a handful of representatives from the NGO sector could attend the DOJ’s forum and we were interested to hear the views of others in the field of sexual violence, colleagues who work in courts and fellow activists.

Our panel discussion on developing court models in South Africa took place on 26 April 2018 in Cape Town and we were joined by three panellists; Lisa Vetten, from the Wits City Institute, Dr Aisling Heath from the Gender, Health and Justice Research Unit at UCT, and Karen Hollely from the Child Witness Institute. Together they shared some of the key findings of their three separate research undertakings in the area of sexual offences in the court system. Their separate research studies looked at the experiences of victims of sexual violence in courts, the observation of court proceedings and the reviewing of court files. They not only shared their very interesting findings, but also their personal opinions of how this issue should be taken forward.

What made this event special is that it brought together groups from two worlds; those at the coal face working in courts, and those in front of the data and research analysing findings. In our experience it is felt that these two worlds don’t connect often enough and so the opportunities to bring these perspectives together to share insights and knowledge are always meaningful. Through the Court Support Project, Rape Crisis provides support services to survivors at five courts. This is an extremely an extremely important component of sexual offences courts. We believe that the very real experiences of our court supporters has the potential to add a depth and richness to the research done by these panellists. By the same stretch, their research helps to shed light on the systemic issues at play that influence the work that happens in courts.

The Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign (RSJC) believes that 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. Learning from the findings of skilled researchers in combination with our own experiences is immensely valuable. It influences our RSJC strategy and helps us work towards answering the question that is central to our campaign; what do sexual offences courts need in order to be successful in South Africa?

 

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

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.