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.

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Small Victories, Big Change

Yesterday marked one week since our “small” victory in a relatively small committee room on the fifth floor of one of the buildings of Parliament. I use quotes because actually it was no small victory and here is why:

The Parliament of South Africa has two main functions. The one is to make and pass laws (legislate) and the other is to oversee the actions of government departments (provide oversight). However, most of these functions are not performed in the National Assembly or the National Council of Provinces and broadcasted over national television with larger-than-life politicians waving their arms and making elaborate arguments. No, most of Parliament’s work happens when Parliamentary Oversight or Portfolio Committees, consisting of members of parliament, meet in much smaller committee rooms to discuss issues relating to the specific portfolio. This can include pieces of legislation, reports or actions taken by the relevant government department.

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It was in such a committee room that we found ourselves one week ago. We, together with the Women’s Legal Centre, received a very last minute invitation to speak to the committee on Justice and Correctional Services about the legislation providing for the establishment of sexual offences courts. This was after we handed in written comments to the committee about this legislation in March. The invitation provided us with the opportunity to explain to members on the committee and to the Deputy Minister of Justice why exclusive sexual offences courts are the only way to ensure higher conviction rates in sexual offences cases while providing the much need support to survivors of this type of crime.

During a long discussion, members raised concerns about an alleged lack of resources of establishing exclusive sexual offences courts. The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DOJ) confirmed the apparent unwillingness of magistrates to hear cases in exclusive sexual offences courts. We reminded the committee of the promise that the government has already made to roll out these courts and we responded to the concerns raised.

As a result of this heated argument, the Deputy Minister of Justice, Min. John Jeffrey, offered to arrange a meeting where we will be able to discuss this with the Regional Court Presidents, representing the magistrates that have to hear these cases, as well as the Department of Justice. This meeting will provide a great opportunity for the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign to continue to lobby and advocate for the rollout of sexual offences courts to make sure that all survivors of sexual offences have access to survivor-centred justice. We were very encouraged by the commitment of the majority of community members to addressing the high rates of rape in South Africa.

Bringing about change in the criminal justice system by ensuring that all survivors have access to a sexual offences court, is a big task and such change is often difficult to measure. However, big change occurs as a result of seemingly small victories in unimpressive rooms on Thursday afternoons. When you follow us on Facebook, you help amplify our small victories in order to achieve big change.

 

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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.

Official Launch of the Boschfontein Sexual Offences Court

The Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign (RSJC) welcomes the official launch of the Boschfontein Sexual Offences Court on 24 March 2017 by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development. The RSJC holds government accountable for the promised rollout of sexual offences courts across the country in order to ensure that survivors of sexual offences have access to such a specialised court. In the light hereof, we applaud government for honouring its commitment.

However, we note with concern that there are still, according to the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development’s official website, only 49 sexual offences courts nationally. This means that the vast majority of communities still do not have access to a survivor-centred criminal justice system to address sexual offences. One such community is Khayelitsha, where we gathered during 16 Days of Activism 2016 to demand that a sexual offences court be established to serve this community. Unfortunately it is still unclear when this will happen.

The RSJC (Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign) calls on the South African Government to put the necessary legislation into effect so that the courts are re-established within a framework that is clear and transparent. We are also asking:

  • that government develop a fully costed plan to make sure these courts are delivered within a clear timeframe,
  • that government prioritise the areas with the highest rates of sexual assault and roll out Sexual Offences Courts there first
  • that government ensure the necessary budget for establishing these courts is allocated annually until all 298 courts are in place and functional
  • That all established courts meet the criteria for a sexual offences court and remain fully functional

To support our demand access to Sexual Offences Courts for all survivors, please go to http://bit.ly/2frRPYU. If you want to follow the activities of the RSJC and support us, please visit Facebook at RSJC.

 

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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 started growing herbs.

#HerNameWasVovo and she was a human being

I am a middle-class, white, cis-gender woman who is perceived to be heterosexual. Because of this I am protected in many ways from the hate and violence that is levelled against poor, black queer people like Noluvo Swelindawo, who was kidnapped from her house in Driftsands and murdered because she is a lesbian. I am not sexualised and perceived as ‘deviant’ in the way that Noluvo is. My body has not being transformed by hundreds of years of exploitation into something unhuman, like hers has.

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Noluvo Swelindawo. Pic: IOL

But I am not as protected as I have always thought. On the 30th of October 2015 I was raped.

I do not profess to know what Noluvo experienced as a queer black woman, but I have experienced what it means to have violence acted out on me, because of what I represent; that which is less than man, that which is woman. I know what it is to be grabbed, strangled, dragged, penetrated. I know what it is to look into the face of a man and fear that he will kill me and leave my broken body in a clump of bushes. I know what it is to fear that those I loved would find me like this. I know what it is to have my humanity ripped away from me, to feel that I am no longer myself.

The murder of Noluvo forced me to reflect on what it means to be a human being in South Africa, what it means to inhabit this precarious, fractured space. On reflecting on the murder of Noluvo, I am forced to mourn for all of us who can read this kind of story and then carry on with our lives, when the lives of so many are being ended, when so many are being stripped of their dignity, their freedom and their humanity.

The valuing of my life, over the lives of other women, was made clear when I attended a government clinic following my own rape. Here I was repeatedly asked who I was accompanying for treatment – because surely this well-dressed white girl could not be the one who was raped? The fact that I cannot comfortably be seen as a ‘rape survivor’ and  that so many people have wanted not to believe what has happened to me when they so easily believe and overlook when the same happens to other women, is deeply revealing of how dehumanisation has become a key social coping mechanism.

If I had been murdered, those of you, who feel that this can’t happen to people like us, would have cried and probably brought flowers, like you did for Franziska Blochliger. You might have raged and screamed. You might even have marched to ensure that this does not happen to another young woman, like me. You would have recognised my humanity and that it was unacceptable for this to be taken from me.

You will not, I fear, do the same for Noluvo.

*Republished with permission.

 

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Rebecca Helman will begin her PhD, which explores “post-rape subjectivities” at UNISA in 2017. She is researcher at the UNISA’s Institute for Social and Health Sciences & SAMRC-UNISA’s Violence, Injury and Peace Research Unit and a volunteer counsellor at Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust’s Observatory office.

Follow her blog here.