The Truth About The Victim Support Services Bill
The Department of Social Development is developing legislation – The Victim Support Services Bill – which is currently open for comment. When a bill is open for comment you can make your voice heard by making a submission (in this case, to the Department of Social Development) with your input.
WHAT IS THE VSS BILL?
The Victim Support Services Bill was designed as a legislative response to gender-based and violent crimes. More specifically, it was intended as a legal framework that would speak directly to the support services provided to victims of crime. As it stands, the bill proposes that organisations and professionals who provide services to all victims of violent crime register with the government. The cost of registration will be borne by your organisation, and failure to do so could result in imprisonment. The bill also requires that there are always enough human and financial resources to realise the objectives of the legislation, irrespective of an organisation’s own objectives and mission.
A bill that purports to bolster victim support services looks to instead weave needless red tape into the non-profit/non-governmental sector. In essence, the Victim Support Services bill looks to criminalise anyone who does not adhere to regulations that would not actually contribute to the improvement of the services provided to victims of crime.
WHO WILL THE BILL AFFECT?
“If you provide a room for a domestic violence victim, or give spiritual counselling to someone who got hijacked, the bill will make you register. If you don’t, that’s a criminal offence. People aren’t going to know about it so you risk people falling foul of the law.”
- Alison Tilley, Judges Matter Coordinator
There is a limit to the support provided by the government to victims of crime. The victim support sector is comprised of civil society organisations – community groups and non-governmental organisations – that provide the care that the government does not. It can be said that South Africa has a rich history of organisations like these stepping up to fill the gaps neglected by our government.
Somehow, in response to that goodwill, the Department of Social Development has put forth the Victim Support Services Bill. One would expect for the bill to support and supplement the admirable work already being done by non-governmental organisations, because without them victim support in this country would be next to non-existent. Instead, the bill (in its current form) would not just create more harm than good, but may very well eliminate the victim support sector as we know it.
If you provide physical, psychological, social or spiritual support to victims of any violent crime, this bill will affect you. From religious leaders, to traditional healers, shelters, therapists, lawyers, nurses, doctors – this bill would severely regulate and possibly eliminate the informal and formal networks of support that victims of crime rely on for sanctuary.
Victims of crime have suffered enough, they should have the right to access any and all of the services that provide them the support that they need. What the Victim Support Services Bill should be doing is protecting and legislating that right.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
Our collective outrage is warranted. But we need to find a sustainable way to channel that outrage in a way that ensures that victims of crime do not end up falling through the cracks due to a lack of state- or civil society-funded support. Victims of crime deserve more than what the Department of Social Development is proposing. We need to stand up and fight on their behalf, and on behalf of the people providing them with invaluable support services.
What can you do?
- Sign the petition: https://awethu.amandla.mobi/petitions/save-victim-support-services-demand-rights-for-victims-of-crime-now
- Make a submission to the Department of Social Development before Wednesday, 16 September 2020. Send your comments by email to:
Siza Magangoel: Sizam@dsd.gov.za
Luyanda Mtshotshisa: LuyandaMt@socdev.gov.za
Anna Sithole: Annas@dsd.gov.za
To learn more about how to make a submission, please read the ‘Making Your Submission’ toolkit here: https://rapecrisis.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/VSS-Submission-Toolkit.pdf
3. Spread the word
The Victim Support Services bill will not achieve much beyond asking NPOs to register as service providers, with failure to register possibly resulting in imprisonment. The benefits of the bill (especially if we centre the experiences of crime victims) are dubious, but the consequences to victim support services would be far-reaching. We need to make our voices heard by signing the petition and making submissions to the Department of Social Development (before Wednesday, 16 Sept) as comment to this damaging bill.
UPDATE: The deadline for submissions to the Department of Social Development has been extended to Wednesday, 7 October 2020.