Why people make a difference to the experience of survivors

Previously we wrote about the space created for discussion as we partnered with the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Law and Society to host a panel discussion on developing court models in South Africa. However, it was not only the space that we were grateful for, but also the content of the discussion.

As the three researchers, Lisa Vetten, Dr Aisling Heath, and Karen Hollely, shared some key findings from their work and presented their opinions to the people that attended, there was a very clear golden thread tying together their findings: people. When victims of sexual offences were interviewed during research conducted by the Child Witness Institute, it was clear that people’s experience of the criminal justice system and sexual offences court depends on the people that work in the court and how supportive they are. This was the same for when magistrates and prosecutors were interviewed about working in sexual offences courts – justice is dispensed by people and who those people are, matter greatly.

As survivors experience the criminal justice system, they experience people. The prosecutor who interviews them and who leads their testimony. The interpreter translating their testimony. The magistrate acting as the presiding officer. And the court supporter, holding the survivor through the process. Clearly the criminal justice system is not some far away “system” devoid of human interaction.
Clearly the criminal justice system IS people.

The question then is how do we make sure that we have the right people who will not only limit secondary trauma suffered by the survivor, but will also ensure that justice is served and that perpetrators are convicted? Fortunately, research (like what was presented at this panel discussion) can provide enormous help in this regard and the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign uses this information when lobbying government for the rollout of sexual offences courts.

We are currently lobbying the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development to finalise the Regulations for Sexual Offences Courts. The regulations provide the minimum requirements for a sexual offences court to exist, including the people that should work at such a court. One of the issues that we lobbied for, is the inclusion of court supporters in the requirements for sexual offences court. We hear what researchers say about the importance of the right people providing support to survivors in the criminal justice system and we could use this information to lobby for specialised court supporters provided by Non-Profit Organisations and funded by the Department of Social Development. Although the regulations have not been finalised, we are very positive that specialised court supporters will be included.

The powerful thing about research then, is when words come to life. When research is used to make real-life changes in legislation and people’s experience of courts, that is when we know positive change is happening.

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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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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

The Gender-Wage Gap

In the world we occupy today, there are currently fewer women executives in the workforce than there are male executives named John. While this seems like an optimal moment to use the now infamous Hillary Clinton, glass ceiling metaphor, it turns out that getting on to the same level as this plethora of John’s is only the beginning of a women’s struggle in the work place. Surprise! More glass ceilings. Not only does there need to be a fight for a women’s success to equal that of John’s, but the false pretense that the struggle ends there only causes a woman to stop and say, “Wait!” when she looks down at her paycheck and compares it to that of her male counterparts.

The gender-wage gap is not a new phenomenon. In fact, as Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James discuss in their writing “The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community,” how capitalism pushed women further and further out of the workplace to the point where men were the primary wage earners and a women’s skills were wasted as she is reduced to her domestic work. However, discrimination in the name of gender is a complex animal and, of course, one glass ceiling would have been far too easy for a woman to break. Even when women shed their soapy, latex dish-washing gloves and join the work force, the system tells them that they are still not worth the same as men.

In fact, society tells women that although they can escape the home to the equally restrictive shackles of a desk, a woman still belongs to her chores. Men label women as distracted or inefficient, because clearly she must be focusing on the housework left undone at home, rather than the office tasks at hand. All in all, this justifies our wage gap. The perception that a women’s output cannot compare to a man’s when he has the ability to push home, family, and relationships out of his mind and focus in a way that, apparently, a woman cannot. The placement of men in the workplace and women in the home is so deeply ingrained in our society that now, in 2018, there is no need for a spoken justification for the gender-wage gap, this inequality lives, unquestioningly accepted, just below the radar of injustice.

My initial reaction to this idea was one of disbelief. In my experience, stereotypes surrounding women rely less on us being unfocused and stretched too thin, than on our ability to multitask, listen, and empathize. However, as I continued to read about the gender-wage gap, the more I was engaging with this justification of inequality. While the stereotypes that I associate with women are definitely informed by my own background, I generally view the ability to listen and other ‘female’ traits as skills of importance in the workplace that need to be fine-tuned in order to achieve success. However, while my stereotypes of women may be the polar opposite of those listed above, they still hold some sort of negative connotation in a work environment. While empathy is a trait that makes someone a decent human, it is hardly seen as valuable in the dog-eat-dog, masculine depiction of the business world.

Consequently, I began to question why I even associate these words with what it means to be a woman. Wait. Aren’t multitasking, listening, and an ability to empathize all traits assumed to be important in order to raise a child? Have I fallen back into the trap of connecting a woman to the home, her family and her domestic work? If these definitions of womanhood are circular, revolving around the home, can a woman not be anything, free to choose her own identity and how she manipulates it; or is anything really just synonymous with nothing? The fact of the matter is that a woman can be anything and should mean something different to every person, but society’s ability to understand women is still bound by the harsh limits of stereotyping as evidenced by the ongoing gender-wage gap.

So how do we combat this? How do we, as women, band together to change the fate of our bank accounts? How do we prevent another glass ceiling from forming right above our heads right before we successfully push through the one directly in front of us? While I do not have the answer to this question, I can only hope that by the time the John’s are equal to or outnumbered by the Emily’s, Hannah’s, or Julia’s in the workforce, we can finally push forward so that a women’s seventy-something cents can finally be equal to the man’s dollar.

 

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Talia Clark
interned at Rape Crisis in April 2018. She is currently a B.A candidate at the George Washington University studying International Affairs. In her third year at university, she decided to partake in a study abroad program in Cape Town to study multiculturalism and human rights which led her to her internship with 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.