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.

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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.

The numbers of change: If you don’t like numbers, then this blog is for you

By Jeanne Bodenstein

The Indian writer and mathematical genius, Shakuntala Devi, once said “Numbers have life, they’re not just symbols on paper”.

I realise that some of you reading this, might not care about numbers at all. Unless you are an accountant. Or a maths teacher. Or someone that is into Soduku. But, to be honest, I do like numbers. And I like the stories that they tell. And such a story I found in an unlikely place last week…

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I attended the meeting of the parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services where the Department of Justice presented their Annual Report for the year of 2016/2017. This is an opportunity for the Department to tell the Committee if their targets have been achieved and to present proof in numbers.

Side note: A large part of the parliamentary Portfolio Committees’ role is to oversee the work of the National Executive (i.e. various government departments) and you will know that I am always interested in how parliament does this.

It is easy to attend a meeting like the one last week and not even see the specifics when the numbers flash by (at record speed, mind you). Overwhelming numbers. But, interested as I am, I look for the stories behind the numbers so that I can share them with you, obviously. One such story, was the story about sexual offences courts. The Department told the Committee that 11 courtrooms across provinces were upgraded to sexual offences courtrooms during the past year, completing the first phase of the rollout.

This number tells the story of the rural community of Tsolo, Eastern Cape, where survivors now have access to specialised services to help them get through the difficult process of giving their testimony in court. The magistrate and prosecutors at this court have been specially trained to deal with sexual offences and the court room is designed in such a way that rape survivors will not have to wait in the same waiting room as the accused or his supporters, child witnesses will be able to give their testimony in a separate room using Closed Circuit Television and support services will have their own offices to offer confidential support to rape survivors and other witnesses for the state. Cases will be processed and finalised more quickly because only sexual offences cases will be heard in this court room.

Added to this, 106 more courtrooms will be upgraded in the second phase of the rollout, bringing the total sexual offences courtrooms to 163 at the end of phase two. This is huge, because it means that more than half of the total number of regional courts across the country will have sexual offences courtrooms. More than half of the survivors of sexual violence in South Africa will receive support in the criminal justice system.

By looking for the stories that these numbers tell, the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign can continue to ask the right questions of the relevant people at the right time. We will continue to hold government accountable for the rollout of sexual offences courts, so that rape survivors can tell their stories in supportive courtrooms and in the presence of supportive people. And we will continue to ask for more numbers until the story they tell is that our government has honoured its promise. You can follow us on Facebook to read more of our stories of change and to share this with your friends.

 

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Jeanne Bodenstein

Jeanne is the Advocacy Coordinator at the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust and heads the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign. She likes wine, pizza and recently rediscovered her love for mystery novels.

Small Victories, Big Change

Yesterday marked one week since our “small” victory in a relatively small committee room on the fifth floor of one of the buildings of Parliament. I use quotes because actually it was no small victory and here is why:

The Parliament of South Africa has two main functions. The one is to make and pass laws (legislate) and the other is to oversee the actions of government departments (provide oversight). However, most of these functions are not performed in the National Assembly or the National Council of Provinces and broadcasted over national television with larger-than-life politicians waving their arms and making elaborate arguments. No, most of Parliament’s work happens when Parliamentary Oversight or Portfolio Committees, consisting of members of parliament, meet in much smaller committee rooms to discuss issues relating to the specific portfolio. This can include pieces of legislation, reports or actions taken by the relevant government department.

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It was in such a committee room that we found ourselves one week ago. We, together with the Women’s Legal Centre, received a very last minute invitation to speak to the committee on Justice and Correctional Services about the legislation providing for the establishment of sexual offences courts. This was after we handed in written comments to the committee about this legislation in March. The invitation provided us with the opportunity to explain to members on the committee and to the Deputy Minister of Justice why exclusive sexual offences courts are the only way to ensure higher conviction rates in sexual offences cases while providing the much need support to survivors of this type of crime.

During a long discussion, members raised concerns about an alleged lack of resources of establishing exclusive sexual offences courts. The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DOJ) confirmed the apparent unwillingness of magistrates to hear cases in exclusive sexual offences courts. We reminded the committee of the promise that the government has already made to roll out these courts and we responded to the concerns raised.

As a result of this heated argument, the Deputy Minister of Justice, Min. John Jeffrey, offered to arrange a meeting where we will be able to discuss this with the Regional Court Presidents, representing the magistrates that have to hear these cases, as well as the Department of Justice. This meeting will provide a great opportunity for the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign to continue to lobby and advocate for the rollout of sexual offences courts to make sure that all survivors of sexual offences have access to survivor-centred justice. We were very encouraged by the commitment of the majority of community members to addressing the high rates of rape in South Africa.

Bringing about change in the criminal justice system by ensuring that all survivors have access to a sexual offences court, is a big task and such change is often difficult to measure. However, big change occurs as a result of seemingly small victories in unimpressive rooms on Thursday afternoons. When you follow us on Facebook, you help amplify our small victories in order to achieve big change.

 

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Jeanne Bodenstein

Jeanne is the Advocacy Coordinator at the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust and heads the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign. She likes wine, pizza and recently rediscovered her love for mystery novels.