How to talk about rape

 

Rape and violence against women is endemic in South Africa, but it is a thorny subject matter. How do we bring this discussion to the foreground in South Africa, what are the words we use and where do we start? 

Words matter. They matter because they are carriers not only of information, but carriers of feelings. When they land, words have the power to heal, revive, restore and educate but they also have an enormous power to debilitate and to trigger. But words are our thoughts, and without them we cannot speak, so how do we use them when we speak about rape? A violent scourge plaguing South Africa, encompassing noun, is not the heart of the very word [rape], triggering in itself?

One of the reasons mainstream media has come under scrutiny for reporting on sexual assaults against women is because they find themselves completely at a loss for sensitivity when it comes to reportage. So what do they do? They stop reporting on the incidents instead. Here’s what happens when issues stop appearing in the news – or better, appear less: Society stops talking about it, the discussion disappears into the shadow, voices are silenced, and communities suffer alone, by themselves.

Kathleen Dey, Director of Rape Crisis South Africa says, “Stories about rape form only about 1% of all media coverage. We need editorial commitment to increasing the volume of reporting without creating moral or compassion fatigue, so we need to be creative about how we produce content and messaging”.

Media needs to be at the forefront of taking on the responsibility about influencing society to have these conversations. Societies should be faced with stories that reflect sexual assault in a truthful, careful manner because a lot of culture in society is shaped by storytellers and one of the ways rape culture can cease to exist is by creating a space that is safer for women, girls and all survivors of sexual assault and one that is more threatening to rapists. But if we don’t talk about it, no one gets that message.

Dey also highlights the importance of engaging with communities, “We need to strengthen communication with communities affected by rape using multiple languages and platforms. We need to tell real stories about the lived experience of rape survivors being conscious of whose stories are told, who tells them, where they are told and how. We need these voices and messages to be amplified”.

 

“Journalists and other communications professionals need gender and diversity training so that they can speak to these issues in a more powerful way. Feminism has so much to teach us about how we tell stories and we need to have more discussion and debate at various levels on what this could be,” she continues.

The media is a mirror to society and society is a mirror to the media. So goes the old adage, but there is no time better than the present to take that very mirror and hold it up to those in government and make them face the scourge as well. The South African government has had its own anti-sexual-violence messaging tainted for too long by its very members committing a couple of heinous crimes which are not always adequately addressed. When the government fails, it also fails its people.

Dey says, “Government is a key audience. We need political will for addressing sexual violence now more than ever. Media can get to government… We need to challenge rape culture and explore ways of building a culture of respect for consent whatever context we are aiming to change through our engagements. We need to actively support women’s leadership”. That last portion begs special mention: Support women’s leadership.

Newsrooms, government offices and even police stations are rife with the imbalances of powers. Misogyny will always favour the powerful and silence the ones who have been sexually abused, sexually assaulted, raped etc. Up until the 1970s in some countries, women weren’t even allowed to testify in their own rape cases – she was considered not to be a reliable source of her own rape. Biblically, rape is referred to as a theft of property, not of the woman but of the father or husband. The men who “own” the women, and now, centuries after the great book we find ourselves in a position where far too few stories of women by women exist in order to bring about any real change.

Dey says, “There are few messages challenging patriarchy and challenging myths and stereotypes about rape.”

According to the Director of Rape Crisis, the media only report on about 1% of sexual assault stories. “There is a lack of a comprehensive messaging strategy on rape and sexual violence with key messages at the heart of each piece coming through without any degree of clarity.”

But while we work on our words, let’s make one thing clear: The discussion on rape needs to be made institutional in a way that brings about real change.

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of ‘Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa’. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @sage_of_absurd

Advertisements

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.

 

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.

 

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.

alexasedge_staff_03-002-e1494597011635

 

 

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