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