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There's Been A Great Victory For Rape Survivors In The Sexual Offences Court Discussions

The exclusivity of sexual offences courts will be retained and government has committed to 'full implementation' of services over time for survivors of sexual assault.

24/05/2017 11:24 SAST | Updated 01/06/2017 11:22 SAST

Government has agreed to maintain the exclusivity of sexual offences courts against a proposed 'hybrid model', the Rape Survivors' Justice Campaign (RSJC) said on Tuesday evening.

The Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust argued in Parliament on Tuesday for courts to be set up exclusively for hearing sexual offences cases against a proposal that would allow courts to also hear other cases. Kathleen Day, director of the organisation that runs the Rape Survivor's Justice Campaign, told HuffPost last week the Judicial Matters Amendment Bill 14 of 2016 proposed an amendment to legislation that would remove the word "exclusively" from the definition of the courts, effectively allowing for a hybrid model.

'Hybrid model would be a step backwards'

A "diluted or hybrid model", Dey said, would undermine the specialist nature of these courts and would be a "step backwards on what the state has promised". The courts provide specialised services for victims of sexual offences, including offering support to victims whose ability to testify "can easily be undermined because of the excessive trauma they experience when remembering and recounting the events of the rape," Dey said.

Court personnel and officials in sexual offences courts are given specialised training and physical infrastructure is set up specifically for sexual offences cases. This includes fitting courtrooms with private testifying and waiting rooms as well as two-way circuit televisions for victims to identify the accused without entering the courtroom. Other mandatory features included anatomically correct dolls to help children identify body parts and demonstrate alleged sexual acts without causing secondary trauma.

Magistrates concerned about resources

Regional court presidents previously flagged the concerns of magistrates with the current model, particularly their claim that limited resources for implementing exclusive courts posed a major challenge.

After a meeting with Deputy Justice Minister John Jeffrey and seven regional court presidents on Thursday, the RSJC handed over a memorandum proposing possible amendments to the current drafting Bill with the aim of addressing the concerns of magistrates.

On Tuesday, an amended drafting of the Judicial Matters Amendment Bill 14 of 2016 was presented to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice and Constitutional Development, which upheld the exclusivity of these courts in its definition of sexual offences courts.

Government also committed to taking steps towards achieving the "full implementation of these court services over time, to the maximum of its available resources and using all appropriate means, including particularly the adoption of legislative measures," said Jeanne Bodenstein, advocacy coordinator of the RSJC.

'Great victory for rape survivors'

The RSJC said it values their engagement with the regional court presidents as well as the Justice and Constitutional Development Department. Dey, of the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, told HuffPost after last week's meeting they were "impressed by the efforts of courts presidents to rollout the courts" and appreciated the "extremely collegial" nature of their interactions.

"This is a great victory for rape survivors and will ensure a legislative framework that aims to protect survivors," Bodenstein said. "We look forward to comments on the draft regulations, to be released shortly, in order to ensure victims of these crimes are supported by the criminal justice system in order to ensure the least amount of secondary victimisation and high conviction rates," she said.