Making strides in fighting for sexual offences courts

The Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign was conceived and established in 2016. We have one aim: the planned and funded rollout of sexual offences courts as promised by the government.

This is a big ask and we envision that this long-term advocacy campaign will probably take at least ten years. Since our launch on Women’s Day in 2016 we have made great strides and progress and we will continue to build on this in the future.

Our campaign advocates for the national rollout of sexual offences courts to such an extent that all rape survivors will eventually have access to a specialised court. We believe that these courts should first be established in areas with high rates of reported sexual offences, which is one of the issues that we advocate for in the regulations and our engagement with the Department of Justice.

Locally, we have also chosen to specifically lobby for a sexual offences court to be established in Khayelitsha. Rape Crisis has an office in Khayelitsha and the police stations in the area consistently have some of the highest rates of reported sexual offences in the country without a specialist court to serve the community.

Here are some highlights of our achievements from the past two years:

August 2016: Launch of the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign. We made submissions to the High Level Panel on Key Legislation about the importance of having a legislative framework for sexual offences courts in South Africa.

November 2016: We gathered in front of the Khayelitsha Regional Court to demand that it be upgraded to a sexual offences court.

December 2016: We made oral submissions to the High Level Panel on Key Legislation about the importance of a legislative framework for sexual offences courts.

March 2017: We made written submissions to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services on the legislation for courts that deal exclusively with sexual offences.

May 2017: We made additional oral submissions to the Portfolio Committee regarding the exclusivity of sexual offences courts. We also engaged with Regional Court Presidents and the Deputy Minister of Justice to assist with the drafting of the sections of the Judicial Matters Amendment Bill 2016, that gives the Minister the power to establish these courts, including a definition of the courts.

September 2017: We Lobbied the Department of Justice to release the Regulations for sexual offences courts for public comment.

October 2017: We attended the National Forum on the Implementation of the Sexual Offences Act to lobby for the draft regulations to be released and to lobby the Deputy Minister of Justice for the establishment of a sexual offences court in Khayelitsha.

November 2017: Community activists gathered in front of the Khayelitsha Court and handed over a memorandum to the Deputy Minister of Justice to demand the upgrade to the Khayelitsha Court.

December 2017 to January 2018: The draft regulations were released for public comment. We made submissions on the regulations, specifically lobbying for a meeting with the relevant departments.

February 2018: We met with the Deputy Minister at the Khayelitsha Court to discuss proposed changes and upgrades.

March 2018: A meeting with the Departments of Justice, Police, Social Development, NPA and fellow Shukumisa Coalition members to lobby for the regulations to reflect attainable minimum standards as well as lobbying for specialist court support.

April 2018: We directly lobbied the Deputy Minister of Justice for the regulations to be finalised. We engaged with the drafters of the regulations regarding next steps and hosted a research panel discussion to highlight the successes and challenges of how courts deal with sexual offences.

May 2018: We submitted a report to the Deputy Minister setting out recommendations for the upgrades at the Khayelitsha Court.

July 2018: A meeting with the relevant Departments again to workshop the regulations. The main wins from this have been; the inclusion of court support in the regulations, the regulations will be a set of “minimum requirements” for sexual offences courts and the Department is tasked to come up with a list of minimum criteria for how to decide where to establish sexual offences courts.

September 2018: Consult with Rape Crisis’s court support team and coalition partners to on how the role of court support should be described in the regulations.

October 2018: Submit input to Department of Justice setting out the regulations relating to court support in sexual offences courts.

Initially the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign demanded that government rollout sexual offences courts in accordance with their own Blue Print set out in the MATTSO report[1]. However, through engagement with government decision makers in different departments as well as research done by academic institutions, we discovered that there was real concern that the model might very well be unattainable in the country’s current financial position. While the specialised personnel and services are key in reducing secondary trauma and ensuring that complainants continue to testify in a sexual

[1] Ministerial Advisory Task Team on the Adjudication of Sexual Offence Matters. The Report on the Re-Establishment of Sexual Offences Courts. 2013 offences case, the Blue Print also contains extensive and very costly infrastructural requirements. At most Regional Courts in the Country, these are simply not implementable.

We used the opportunity to lobby for the release of the Draft Regulations for Sexual Offences Courts, which will give detailed instructions on achievable requirements. While the regulations are still in draft form, we are pushing for them to contain minimum requirements for services, personnel and infrastructure at sexual offences courts with one goal: to reduce secondary trauma suffered by survivors. This way the objectives of sexual offences courts can be achieved within resource constraints.

The Departments of Justice and Constitutional Development as well as the National Prosecuting Authority includes the rollout of sexual offences courts in their Departments’ Annual Performance Plans (APP) and also report on the achievements of these targets at the end of their financial year. The rollout of sexual offences courts includes a staffing component as well as an infrastructure component and therefore the APPs will speak to these issues.

Hopefully by the end of the year, the regulations will be finalised and then Section 55A of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act, 32 of 2007 can come into operation.

 

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Progress at the Khayelitsha court

The Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign has been working for almost two years advocating for the establishment of a sexual offences court at the Khayelitsha court. While the advocacy and engagement process is never easy we feel we have made some steady progress in working towards this goal. As we plan our next protest to advocate for sexual offences courts during the 16 Days of Activism campaign we thought we would reflect on just how far we have come since we started this project in 2016.

Early on in the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign we, together with community members, expressed support for the establishment of a sexual offences court in Khayelitsha. During the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence in December 2016 we gathered as a community in front of the Khayelitsha court to demand a dedicated sexual offences court be built. At the end of our protest during 16 Days of Activism, we handed over a memorandum to this effect to the Department of Justice.

The current court supporter office is a container, which is located outside of the Khayelitsha court fence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2017 the situation at the Khayelitsha court did not change and we realised that we were going to have to gather there again to voice our demands for a sexual offences court. During the course of 2017 we lobbied the Deputy Minister of Justice to accept our memorandum at our gathering in December 2017. Upon receipt of the memorandum, the Deputy Minister expressed his intention to seriously explore the possibilities of establishing a sexual offences court in Khayelitsha.

As a result of our demands the Deputy Minister asked that the Gender Health and Justice Research Unit (GHJRU) include Khayelitsha in their study on improved case outcomes in sexual offences. We offered to assist with this, specifically focusing on the fieldwork at Khayelitsha taking place in January 2018. We also placed the issue of the office space currently occupied by our court supporter on the forefront of the agenda as something that should be addressed.

During our fieldwork, we reviewed more than 100 sexual offence court dockets. The outcome of this will be covered in a report that will be released by the GHJRU.

The Deputy Minister of Justice visited the Khayelitsha court again during February 2018, with the specific aim of improving the infrastructure of the courtroom and surrounding facilities that are used to hear sexual offences cases.

We enlisted the help of architect Tiffany Melles, from Michelle Sandilands Architects, who agreed to work pro-bono to design the improvements for the court. We then drafted a report and sent it to the Regional Head of the Department of Justice setting out the background, problem statement and recommendations. Our advocacy coordinator, court support coordinator, architect, Khayelitsha Court Manager, Area Court Manager and Senior Public Prosecutor at Khayelitsha met on 11 May 2018, so that we could discuss the plans and draft the report with them. They were very enthusiastic about the proposed changes. Following this meeting the plans and report were sent to the Regional Head and Deputy Minister.

This is the courtyard of the Khayelitsha court where we propose two new units for the sexual offences court supporters should be placed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we await the plans to be approved and implemented, the Department of Justice has prepared an interim office for the court supporter by partitioning a section of the intermediary room. This was done for safety purposes as the previous court supporter room was outside of the court security fence.

Our court support coordinator and advocacy coordinator have met with the Regional Head (Hishaam Mohamed) and two of his staff who work on court facilities. We convinced them that the mobile units together with the minor capital works proposed in our report and plans will, in fact, provide them with a long-term solution. Once the Regional Head and his team understood the logic of the plans, they seemed enthusiastic about our plans for the court. We want this court model to be the pilot for the country of the use of mobile units. As we stand now the Department is in the process of getting quotes for the ‘building’ works and we are in the process of getting quotes for the mobile units.

We are so pleased to have had such positive engagement with stakeholders as this project has progressed and look forward to working with the Department of Justice to make our vision for this court a reality.

Download our report: Report on Recommended Changes to Khayelitsha Court Supporter Office. 

Take a look at our proposed plans for the Khayelitsha sexual offences court here: RSJC Khayelitsha Sexual Offences Court plans.

 

16 Days of Noise

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.

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RSJC handing over the memorandum to Deputy Minister of Justice, John Jeffery, outside Khayelitsha Magistrates’ Court. Photo: Lina Lechlech.

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

Jeanne Bodenstein is the coordinator of the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign for the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust.

Be a Proud Slacktivist this 16 Days

By Jeanne Bodenstein

Have you ever wanted to attend a demonstration from the comfort of your own home? To be an arm chair activist without shame? We have the answer to your wish.

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Sexual offences courts now! (Photo:Alexa Sedge)

The end of the year is marked by Christmas lights in our local shopping malls, year-end functions and the 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women.  During the 16 Days of Activism, people from around the world find ways to actively express their discontent with the high rates of violence against women and sexual violence in particular. This is a chance for people to stand in solidarity with survivors of rape and other forms of sexual violence.

This year, the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign will use this opportunity to advocate for better support for survivors of rape and sexual violence in the courts. Specialised courts ensure that survivors are supported by specialised personnel, services and infrastructure with access to intermediaries and counselling support at moment of intense uncertainty and fear. Research has shown that this court model increases conviction rate in rape cases as well as reducing secondary trauma to survivors by making sure the support is there when needed most.

Our government has planned and budgeted for the rollout of these courtrooms. Our campaign intends to hold them accountable for doing so.

You can help us by supporting our actions during the 16 Days. We will host a community workshop to raise awareness and share information about these courts and about our campaign. This will be followed by a demonstration to demand a sexual offences courtroom to be established at Khayelitsha Regional Court.

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RSJC  will hand over a memorandum at Khayelitsha court. (Photo: Alexa Sedge)

We need your support.

You can get involved by donating to our campaign and with your contribution we will create placards to use at the public demonstration out side Khayelitsha Court with the following messages:

“Sexual offences courts now”

“We need the right criminal justice system”

“Access to justice”

“Support in every court”

“Better support for survivors”

“Justice for all rape survivors now!”

With your support we will also hand over this memorandum to the Deputy Minister of Justice and to the Khayelitsha Court manager to demand a sexual offences courtroom to serve the community of Khayelitsha.

If you would like to support us by joining us at the public demonstration, please like our Facebook page to be informed of the details of the event. Join us to demand better justice for all survivors.

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Jeanne Bodenstein is the coordinator of the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign.