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.

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Raising awareness of the importance of sexual offences courts

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 

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Support Thuthuzela Care Centres #EnditNow

By Kathleen Dey

I’m listening to a rape survivor tell a conference room filled with people the story of how she was raped at the age of 14, shot, shoved into a pit latrine and left for dead. How she didn’t die. How she lived. How she crawled to safety. How she named her assailant and sent him to jail for life. How she lives with a bullet in her neck. How she prevailed against thoughts of suicide by finding the Rape Crisis counselling service. How she wrote a book about her experiences called Dear Bullet or a letter to my shooter. Many in the audience are in tears. Others are shocked even though they are experts in this field. As she ends she says, “We need to stop rape. We need to save rape survivors by helping them to talk.” Her name is Sixolile Mbalo.

Dear Bullet

In the 20 years since Sixolile was raped South Africa has escalated its response to gender based violence, combining criminal justice, medical and mental health related services in an innovative model called the Thuthuzela Care Centres. At these centres, based in hospitals around the country, counsellors called first responders meet each survivor as they arrive to greet them, calm them down and contain them until they are composed enough to be able to absorb information. They then inform them about the complex processes involved in reporting rape and walk them through the process step by step: A nurse will counsel the survivor about potential health risks including potential HIV infection and prepare them for the forensic examination, which is conducted by a doctor specially trained to collect forensic evidence for the crimes of rape and sexual assault.

After this examination the first responder gives the survivor a care pack containing toiletries so that she can shower, change into clean underwear and brush her teeth. A police detective will either take a statement immediately or escort the survivor to their home and make an arrangement to take the statement the following day. Before they leave the nurse will make sure that if the HIV test was negative that the survivor has Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) medication to prevent HIV, pregnancy and STIs. The first responder will make sure the survivor has contact details for ongoing counselling services for future reference as well as an information booklet on recovering from rape. As this case makes its way through the criminal justice system it will be supervised by a specially trained prosecutor and investigated by a specially trained detective. As they adhere to the PEP regimen survivors are followed up to ensure they complete the full course and do not seroconvert and become HIV positive.

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Thuthuzela Care Centre Coordinator, Nomnqweno Gqada with the care back bags rape survivors receive at TCC’s.

At the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust we see over of 3 000 rape survivors a year at these centres. We see the extraordinary impact this care has on survivors, making sure they don’t struggle and suffer as Sixolile did but get the help they need right from the very beginning in the hours immediately after the rape. We see the incredible collaboration between medical teams, police officials and NGOs. These NGOs are gathered today to discuss the future of the Thuthuzela Care Centres.

A future that seems suddenly uncertain. The South African Government has not given any clear signs that it will continue this project once foreign donor funding comes to an end. With 50 centres across the country the budget for maintaining these services is high. Where will the funding for this budget come from? Foreign donor policies are moving towards prevention and away from care, seeming to ignore the preventive role that care plays in the cycle of violence. The impact on economic development of gender based violence is significant, with women, who are still bearing the main brunt of these crimes forming a major portion of the workforce or supporting that workforce. The Thuthuzela Care Centres represent the state’s most comprehensive response to gender based violence especially when coupled with specialised sexual offences courts. Yet many donors are unwilling to subsidise services they consider the responsibility of the South African government.

The fact is that these services remain dependent on a strong collaboration between donors, both local and international, the government and civil society. The goals of each of these three sets of actors complement one another perfectly while their roles in achieving free, accessible services post rape to survivors are different. If this three way partnership were to fail, with no commitment from donors or from the state to continue to support survivors in the years to come, what will be the fate of these survivors?

One thing is certain. South African civil society is strong. The conference hall is full, the audience attentive. Many have been in the sector for long years and have accumulated a wealth of experience and expertise. Panel after panel present successful results and in depth research. The evidence is rich and absorbing. With such success to hand this partnership should never fail. Sixolile’s message should be heard. #EnditNow

 

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Kathleen Dey is director of the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust. 

On #MeToo

By Sam Waterhouse

We are posting with different private meanings and experiences behind that phrase. Many of us are talking about rape, assault, and abuse as well as ‘harassment’. We are talking about sexual violence. We are publicly exposing something deeply personal, for some of us we know we are also being political, and in the posting we are being more socially connected about experiences that we mostly share in smaller spaces. If we share it at all. There is, even for me, some discomfort in the choice to #MeToo, I hesitated and waited – for what purpose? Am I going to hang this out on the line to be minimised, looked over, celebrated, commiserated, diminished, pitied? My personal and social meanings collide in the choice.

And then I saw women I perceive as powerful, who I respect and aspire to posting and I was enabled. #MeToo

I’m interested in seeing who posts and who doesn’t. I’m interested in who doesn’t because my Facebook is not only linked to feminists, to women who are alive to the scaffolding that holds sexual violence up and seek to name it, dismantle it and build networks of compassion and power. My Facebook people are also girls, women and men who live in other ways and who have lived sexual violence. Many of these are not participating in this public way. May you continue to do what keeps you safe, may some of you be emboldened, may you choose what’s best for you.

I’m interested in who reacts. On mine so far all women. On some other posts I see the smattering of woke men who perhaps understand better or who feel they have permission to react. So this seems to me to be another exercise of women speaking to women about something that men and our society creates. And I pragmatically see the value of women talking to women. There is power there. But I get pissed off because we are not posting this only for other women. Angry because I think most men are turning away from this pervasive reality and then also considering (generously?) maybe they don’t know if they can react or how to.

I’m interested in how I’ve reacted to posts and how I’ve felt about the reactions to mine. Depending on the content and my closeness to the person who posts I react differently. I do this because experiences of sexual violence do not invoke one set of static feelings. We have different meanings at different times. I think for many of us posting we have built strength around the experiences. For me the sad face is uncomfortable I don’t want people to be sad for me. I am not sad now. I didn’t post in sorrow. I posted with heart and with defiance. But I also know the sorrow and the loss and the sense of weakness and I know that for some you are posting – or not posting – with those feelings closer to the surface.

May we have these conversations more openly after this flash of activity.

 

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Sam Waterhouse works at the University of the Western Cape’s Dullah Omar Institute. She was a counselling volunteer at Rape Crisis in the mid 1990s and went on to run our court support project as an advocacy coordinator before continuing as an actvist against violence against women in a broad range of spaces including Facebook, where she originally posted this piece.