It’s 2019, and in May the country voted in its sixth democratic election. Like in 1993, Doc Martens and plaid are in fashion. Ministers and Presidents have changed again, with the Department of Justice (DOJ) getting the youngest Minister in President Ramaphosa’s Cabinet – Ronald Lamola.
The Wynberg Project, described in Part 1 of this series, proved to be a success – the court maintained a conviction rate of up to 80 percent over a period of a year (1993). This meant that four in five cases that went to court resulted in a conviction – the perpetrator went to jail.[i]
INTRODUCTION We’re going to tell you a story that has four parts. It’s a complicated story, but we’re going to try to tell it in a simple way. It is a story where language and meanings change. The very definition of words and crimes change. But, the attitudes and norms of society don’t change very […]
The Rape Survivors Justice Campaign (RSJC) and its coalition partners intend to hold government accountable for the promised roll out of specialised sexual offences courts. These courts are specialised in offering the right kind of support to rape survivors when they need it most, and it is this factor that we believe is key to […]
Presidential Commitment to support for Rape Survivors: A Victory
During the State of the Nation Address, delivered on 7 February 2019, President Cyril Ramaphosa more than once mentioned the issue of gender based violence. He confirmed that more funds will be dedicated to places of support, such as Thuthuzela Care Centres, and that government is working to ensure the better functioning of Sexual Offences courts. Funds must be made available to civil society organisations who already provide specialist support services to survivors to continue to deliver and expand these services. This will mean that more rape survivors can access justice and support services.
We believe that all survivors of sexual offences should have access to a specialised court. Rape Crisis Director Kathleen Dey says, “We believe that the culture of impunity for perpetrators of rape will be addressed by a stronger criminal justice system with support services, sexual offences courts and more prosecutions”.
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.
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.
In South Africa less than 1% of sexual offences result in justice for the victims of these crimes. The estimated number of sexual offences in South Africa is 645 580 each year and only one in 13 of these sexual offences are reported to the police. In other words, only 7,7% of sexual offences that take place are reported to police while 92,3% are unreported.
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.