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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Let’s start a chain reaction on International Women’s Day

Rape survivors need a particular kind of support after someone has raped them. They are traumatised, they need medical attention and they want to know they won’t be harmed again. To help Rape Crisis deliver a service that offers counselling, support and advice at exactly the moment when survivors need it most we need you to act.

You can act now to make sure this service continues. You can get others to join you. I did. All it takes is one small act to start a chain reaction. I started donating R100 a month to Rape Crisis and I asked a friend to do the same. Then I asked her whether she thought she could get just one other person to do the same and she said, “Of course!”

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I’m asking you to do the same. If one thousand people donate R100 a month we can keep this service going and continue to give rape survivors access to exactly what they need no matter where they are on the road to recovery and justice. If you donate and get just one more person to donate and they pass it on and on then I believe we can reach that target.

Thursday 8 March is International Women’s Day and this year the United Nations’ hashtag for the campaign is #TheTimeIsNow. It could not be more apt.

https://rapecrisis.org.za/impact/ 

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16 Days of Noise

By Jeanne Bodenstein

“The problem of rape and sexual abuse is an ongoing crisis in our country. South Africa has one of the highest rates of rape in the world, as well as considerable socio-economic disparities, which means that rape survivors get very different kinds of support when reporting a crime.” During 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children this message is screamed from the virtual rooftops of social media, pronounced in almost every news bulletin, is the topic of a high percentage of media interviews and the centre of a spree of events and campaigns. Government departments have never before hosted this many workshops and suddenly all Parliamentarians have an opinion on this issue.

Handing over memorandum to John Jeffereys

RSJC handing over the memorandum to Deputy Minister of Justice, John Jeffery, outside Khayelitsha Magistrates’ Court. Photo: Lina Lechlech.

So what happens on day 17?

The Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign asked this very question. Because we know that advocacy must be focused, continuous and strategic in order to achieve real change. The change we work towards is a criminal justice system that includes specialised courts with specialised personnel, infrastructure and services for prosecuting rape cases. We want to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice while victims are supported. We know that a strong criminal justice system is needed to address the high rates of rape and sexual violence in South Africa by restoring the faith that communities should have that perpetrators will be brought to justice. Therefore, during 16 Days of Activism, we do exactly the same as we do on the other 349 days of the year: we hold the government accountable for rolling out sexual offences courts.

On 25 November 2017, we launched the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign webpage. This provides a platform to showcase our work. Last week, we hosted a workshop in Khayelitsha to raise awareness regarding the survivor’s pathway through the criminal justice system. This highlighted the need for a sexual offences court in Khayelitsha to address the very real gaps in the system as well as the high rape rate in this community. We invited participants of the workshop to join us at a public demonstration on 5 December 2017 outside the court.

At this public demonstration in front of Khayelitsha Magistrates’ Court we demand that a sexual offences court be established in Khayelitsha and we handed over a memorandum to this effect to the Deputy Minister of Justice, John Jeffery. In his acceptance speech, the Minister confirmed that Khayelitsha Magistrates’ Court will be upgraded through a collaborative process early next year. This is long-lasting change. Real, systemic change aimed at addressing the problem of rape.

We believe that sexual offences courts will make a real difference in how rape cases are dealt with by ensuring that survivors receive support, that there is a speedy turnaround time for rape cases and ensuring higher conviction rates. So when the government workshops, Parliamentary speeches and abundance of media interviews come to an end on 10 December 2017, we will continue to hold government accountable for the rollout of specialised courts with specialised personnel, infrastructure and services.

Please see our webpage at: https://rapecrisis.org.za/justice-campaign/

 

Jeanne

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