Feminist Leadership

Anyone can be a leader, whether they hold the title of a leader in an organisation or not. But what does it mean to be a feminist leader?  This is a question that we at Rape Crisis have been thinking deeply about from the time the organisation was founded in 1976. We have not always made this thinking clear or visible to others, but a recent grant from the African Women’s Development Fund has allowed us to explore the topic more and to be more open about exploring the question of power in our organisation.

We all know that women’s rights are under threat in South Africa because of violence, poverty and inequality. This affects us in our homes and in our communities, but most of all in our work because we work for an organisation that:

  • Offers services to rape survivors 
  • Educates communities about the harmful norms and stereotypes that promote violence against women  
  • Advocates for change that will improve the criminal justice system for rape survivors.
Our RSJC volunteers advocating for change

Because we do this work we know that, well beyond the scope of our own endeavours, South Africa needs leadership that encourages individual women to work at understanding and shifting the oppressive power dynamics that keep harmful and oppressive systems in place. By oppressive we mean harsh, authoritarian treatment of others by powerful people, making sure that less powerful people are kept down. These dynamics appear in ourselves, in the people around us and in society.

Oppressive power dynamics are the things that make us feel that because we are women we are less than men, and that we deserve less than men when it comes to pay, holding positions of power, sharing our opinions and making decisions. As a result we accept poor wages, do not apply for powerful positions, remain silent when others give their opinions and hesitate to make certain decisions. 

We need to shift these thoughts, feelings and ideas about ourselves because they are not true. Women deserve to be paid well, to be leaders, to voice our opinions and to make decisions. 

It is harmful for us to believe that this is not so because it makes us believe that women are submissive and subservient to the needs of men. The harm that comes from this, is men’s ongoing violence against women, the fact that we are not kept safe from this, that we are often blamed for this and that our recourse to justice is filled with so many obstacles that in the end not enough rapists are punished.

That is why it is important that we not only work to bring about this shift within ourselves but also to lead in a way that brings about a change in larger and larger numbers of women so that they feel empowered to bring about change at every level of the systems that influence the way we live our ordinary everyday lives.

How do we lead in ways that empower other women? Make sure to Read our next blog on “The Roles of Feminism“.

Written by Kathleen Dey, Director of Rape Crisis Cape Town

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Comparing numbers on sexual offences statistics

Sean Abrahams. He’s still there. And he says he is doing a great job. He’s the head of the National Prosecuting Authority, and mostly famous for not prosecuting Jacob Zuma.

Many people think it doesn’t matter to them, and that the National Prosecuting Authority is a matter for politicians and journalists. Well, let’s take a look at gender-based violence; more specifically sexual offences. That’s an issue that you will know about, and in fact determines some of what you do. Those streets you don’t walk at night, those lectures you give your kids about people spiking their drinks? It’s because you don’t feel safe. One reason you may not feel safe is because rapists are not convicted in significant enough numbers. But how bad are those numbers really?

 Sean will tell you all is well. His NPA has a conviction rate of 72,8% on sexual offences. Sounds good, right? You can sleep better at night, knowing that?

Not so much. The number of convictions on Sean’s own version is 5 001.  The sexual offences crime category contains the crimes detailed in the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Act. Crimes that fall under this broad category include rape, compelled rape, sexual assault, incest, bestiality, statutory rape and sexual grooming of children – among others.

In 2016/17, the police recorded a total of 49 660 sexual offences, down from 51 895 in 2015/16. The vast majority of the sexual offences recorded were rapes, followed by sexual assaults.

If 49 660 cases were reported why are there only 5 001 convictions? Even if Sean’s maths is as bad as mine, that’s not 72,8% percent.  So, what’s going on?

Well, at the essence of it is the number of cases that make it to prosecution. At a Rape Crisis event in Cape Town showcasing research on sexual offences courts in May, Lisa Vetten reported on recent research on statistics around convictions. According to her findings an arrest is made in only 57% of cases and only 65% of those were referred for prosecution. Prosecutors accepted 34,4% and these were enrolled for trial. Trials started in 18,5% cases and 8,6% cases were finalised, with a verdict of guilty of a sexual offence.  

With these new statistics in mind it makes us wonder what Sean is talking about? In the 2017/2018 reporting period only an estimated 6 868 sexual offences cases were prosecuted and of these 5 001 resulted in convictions. This is where the National Prosecuting Authority gets their 72,8% success rate statistic.  Sean is therefore only referring to the handful of cases that his staff have cherry picked for prosecution, which have really good prospects of success. What is a ‘good’ rape case? This is usually seen as a respectable, presentable victim, who is sober, badly injured, and has only enough of a relationship with the perpetrator to identify him. What’s a bad case? On the whole this is seen as anyone who is too young, too old, had a few beers, was in the wrong place, or the investigating officer didn’t investigate properly.

 Case investigations are led by constables, in half of the cases. In half the cases the perpetrator was fully named and in 70% of these cases his or her contact details were also supplied. There are nevertheless many cases where the police investigation and documentation of this is deficient. In the dockets the address of the complainant is not always recorded (2,1% of cases), the complainant statement was not signed (13,4% of cases) and the complainant or guardian’s telephone number was missing (21,5% of cases). In only 7% of cases was it noted that the Investigating Officer’s name and contact number had been given to the complainant.

So that’s part of why prosecutors declined to prosecute in 47,7 % of cases referred by police for prosecution. It also explains how the NPA can claim a 72,8% success rate on convictions. As we can see, the actual stats show a very different story when it comes to sexual offences and violence against women.

Sean Abrahams. He’s still there. And he says he is doing a great job. 

 Find out more about what makes a strong rape case from the courts perspective here: https://rapecrisisblog.wordpress.com/2018/05/29/evidence-rape-court-case/

Download the full report: Rape Justice In South Africa: A Retrospective Study Of The Investigation, Prosecution And Adjudication Of Reported Rape Cases From 2012: http://www.mrc.ac.za/reports/rape-justice-south-africa-retrospective-study-investigation-prosecution-and-adjudication

 

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Alison Tilley is an attorney, and the head of advocacy at the Open Democracy Advice Centre, which is a law centre based in South Africa, specialising in access to information and whistleblowing law. The Centre works on these transparency issues across Africa.www.opendemocracy.org.za

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.

Does Rape Matter?

If the words of magistrates and judges are anything to go by, we would be able to grade rape crimes into categories- from not so bad to worst.

As if the act of rape itself was not traumatic enough, survivors still have to listen to remarks made during trial, that is, if their case makes it to court.

But who monitors what judges and magistrates say in their courtrooms? No one, really.

While it isn’t possible to monitor every single rape judgment handed down (and I wish I personally could), we can, instead, choose the people who are appointed to the bench, very carefully.

Next month, the Judicial Service Commission will conduct interviews on potential candidates, who may be deemed as fit for the bench.

Candidates are often asked about their experience, past judgments, how long they served as an acting judge for, and what their experience is with civil cases.

Based on previous JSC sittings, rape judgments delivered by these candidates often slip through the cracks.

This year, the case study for “what not to do when presiding over a rape case” is acting Judge Meerchand Maharaj.

Maharaj started off as a prosecutor and then moved up the ranks to become a magistrate. In his impressive CV, he lists being trained in sexual offences.

In his own words, in a rape appeal matter, the acting judge writes: “Rape is undeniably a despicable crime. It is humiliating and degrading and constitutes a brutal invasion of the privacy and dignity of the person…”

But when dealing with an appeal against sentence in a case where a nine-year-old child was raped, Maharaj decides that this is not the most serious rape he has presided over.

He writes, “the learned magistrate overemphasised the seriousness of the crime…”

In considering the substantial and compelling circumstances, he notes, “There is no evidence of serious injury to the complainant or her emotional state.”

Maharaj’s remarks are echoed in many other judgments.

During the 2015 JSC interviews, another shortlisted candidate, Judge Francis Legodi, made similar remarks in a judgment.

In a case where a ten-year-old was raped, Judge Legodi said that compared to other victims, the child was “less affected and traumatised” and that her performance at school was “not seriously affected”. The man’s sentence was changed from life imprisonment to ten years each for two rapes.

Legodi in another rape judgment said: “In coming to the sentence I don’t think this rape was one of the worst. Minimum force was used, ten years imprisonment in my view is a bit severe.”

In 2016, shortlisted candidate Judge Christiaan van der Merwe also expressed similar sentiments of lack of injury in his judgment. “There was no serious or lasting mental injury to the complainant,” he wrote. He concluded that life imprisonment was “disproportionate and unjust” for the rapist due to these circumstances.

These are just a few examples of remarks made by judges about the nature of the rape, “not being the worst”, nor the injuries “too severe”. This may be a result of presiding officers who have become desensitised to the issue of rape because they often preside over many of these cases.

But that’s no excuse. Judges owe it to the survivors and to the justice system to ensure that they are sensitive and strive for impartiality.

The courts are said to be a microcosm of society. Is this really what we think of rape crimes? That some are more serious than others? The act of rape is horrific enough. Full stop. No further explanation is needed.

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The Justice Lady is a writer who wants to give a voice to the voiceless. She is an advocate for the rights of rape survivors. She keeps a close eye on the courts, the media and the role they play in shaping the manner in which society sees rape.