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.

RSJC logo (2)

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.




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 If you want to follow the activities of the RSJC and support us, please visit Facebook at RSJC.




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.

Noluvo Swelindawo

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.




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. 





Stop shaming survivors for not reporting rape

by Miles Collins

The sexual offences statistics that were released recently have once again emphasised that there is a problem of under reporting of rapes in South Africa. Rape survivors face many barriers on their road to justice, and reporting remains one of the largest. Our criminal justice system does little to prevent secondary victimisation when survivors do report. We are therefore faced with a complex issue, where encouraging rape survivors to report, no matter how well intentioned, can lead to further trauma instead of healing.

Secondary trauma is often the result of the negative experiences a survivor has when engaging with the criminal justice system – but it doesn’t always start there.

In the aftermath of a rape it is understandable that a survivor’s loved ones would want justice for the person they care about. In the process of trying to help, they might not realise the negative effect the pressure to report or talk about what happened can have on a survivor. The popular narrative of talking or writing about trauma in general can be harmful; it places implicit moral pressure on survivors that they owe speaking out about it to other people when they aren’t ready to do so. Simply recounting what happened, even to friends and family, may cause a survivor to relive the events and experience additional trauma. It is therefore crucial to understand why so many survivors never make it to the point to reporting, and if they do why they are unable to follow through with the process.

In an interview with eNCA, Statistician General Pali Lehohla addressed the reluctance of survivors to report to the police: “In terms of reporting it at the police station, the stigma that is associated with it, all those things make it impossible for people to follow through and report. People ask, why didn’t you report? And they would say: ‘Well, we didn’t think the police would do anything about it’.” This statement reflects the insensitive attitudes survivors are often faced with when trying to open a case.

This behaviour may be attributed to various factors. When service providers believe rape myths and stereotypes, it perpetuates harmful stigma. This behaviour is exacerbated by prejudice about certain “types” of survivors and affects the way they are treated. We see the effect of rape myths when officers dismiss a case or refuse to take it seriously if they believe that the survivor provoked it. Some of the contributing factors are structural such as under staffing, a dearth of resources and inadequate sensitivity training. These structural problems result in survivors not receiving adequate services such as being informed about the health risks after being rape and being referred for medical care.

Aside from the glaring hurdles in the system, even if a survivor reports and gets the care she needs, she is still at risk for secondary trauma every step of the way. The road to justice doesn’t end in the police station; the forensic unit and the court room provide a whole new set of challenges.

Shaming survivors who don't report increases the risk of secondary trauma. (Photo: Alexa Sedgwick)

The road to justice is immensely challenging. Shaming survivors who don’t report only adds to the existing trauma.  (Photo: Alexa Sedgwick)

Rape Crisis uses Judith Herman’s four principles of empowerment, in order to best maintain a standard for service delivery aimed at rebuilding trust and preventing secondary trauma on the journey to healing. The four principles are: Safety, Choice, Respect and Ongoing support.

  • Safety: It is important to make survivors feel physically, emotionally and mentally safe at all times. At Rape Crisis we provide confidential, safe spaces both with our 24-hour helpline, and counselling rooms.
  • Choice: Service providers need to provide survivors with a range of information in order to allow them to make informed and involved choices about their journey. Our counsellors understand the importance of explaining every aspect of the journey through the criminal justice system, so that survivors know what is required of them.
  • Respect: All survivors need to be taken seriously. Service providers need to affirm their respect with an approach free of prejudice and bias. Rape Crisis seeks to actively dispel rape myths, and has a policy against discrimination.
  • Ongoing support: Survivors need to be supported emotionally and practically beyond the service itself. This includes referring or informing a survivor of other available resources. Our Court Support Project is one example of hands-on direct assistance to survivors both as an advisory and a emotional support presence during a court case.

Whether a survivor decides to report a rape or even to speak out about it is a deeply personal process, and not a choice that anyone else should make for her. We need to stop putting pressure on survivors to report their rapes, and instead address the factors that make the very idea of doing so in an often-hostile environment difficult to do at all. The onus is on us as service providers and supporters to help create an environment of safety and trust, to play our part in helping to prevent secondary trauma on the long road to justice.

Miles Collins is an intern at Rape Crisis currently studying journalism with an interest in radio.