By Jeanne Bodenstein
“The problem of rape and sexual abuse is an ongoing crisis in our country. South Africa has one of the highest rates of rape in the world, as well as considerable socio-economic disparities, which means that rape survivors get very different kinds of support when reporting a crime.” During 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children this message is screamed from the virtual rooftops of social media, pronounced in almost every news bulletin, is the topic of a high percentage of media interviews and the centre of a spree of events and campaigns. Government departments have never before hosted this many workshops and suddenly all Parliamentarians have an opinion on this issue.
So what happens on day 17?
The Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign asked this very question. Because we know that advocacy must be focused, continuous and strategic in order to achieve real change. The change we work towards is a criminal justice system that includes specialised courts with specialised personnel, infrastructure and services for prosecuting rape cases. We want to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice while victims are supported. We know that a strong criminal justice system is needed to address the high rates of rape and sexual violence in South Africa by restoring the faith that communities should have that perpetrators will be brought to justice. Therefore, during 16 Days of Activism, we do exactly the same as we do on the other 349 days of the year: we hold the government accountable for rolling out sexual offences courts.
On 25 November 2017, we launched the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign webpage. This provides a platform to showcase our work. Last week, we hosted a workshop in Khayelitsha to raise awareness regarding the survivor’s pathway through the criminal justice system. This highlighted the need for a sexual offences court in Khayelitsha to address the very real gaps in the system as well as the high rape rate in this community. We invited participants of the workshop to join us at a public demonstration on 5 December 2017 outside the court.
At this public demonstration in front of Khayelitsha Magistrates’ Court we demand that a sexual offences court be established in Khayelitsha and we handed over a memorandum to this effect to the Deputy Minister of Justice, John Jeffery. In his acceptance speech, the Minister confirmed that Khayelitsha Magistrates’ Court will be upgraded through a collaborative process early next year. This is long-lasting change. Real, systemic change aimed at addressing the problem of rape.
We believe that sexual offences courts will make a real difference in how rape cases are dealt with by ensuring that survivors receive support, that there is a speedy turnaround time for rape cases and ensuring higher conviction rates. So when the government workshops, Parliamentary speeches and abundance of media interviews come to an end on 10 December 2017, we will continue to hold government accountable for the rollout of specialised courts with specialised personnel, infrastructure and services.
Please see our webpage at: https://rapecrisis.org.za/justice-campaign/
Jeanne Bodenstein is the coordinator of the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign for the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust.