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Adults seek justice for childhood sexual abuse

Written by Allison Cooper

Sisters Lisa van der Merwe (56) and Claudine Shiels (60), who were allegedly sexually abused by relatives from 1974 to 1979, are taking their offenders to trial this month to seek justice for the crimes committed against them 40 years ago.

This has been made possible by the amendment of the Criminal Procedure Act, in 2018, which removed the time restriction of 20 years that was in place for prosecuting offenders.

It is good news for adults who suffered sexual abuse as children, as they can now seek justice and take back their power. It also sends a strong message during Women’s Month to sexual and Gender-Based Violence (GBV) offenders, that their crimes will not go unpunished.

The case will appear before the Wynberg Magistrate’s Court in August, when the accused are expected to plead.

Changing the law

In May 2018, Cabinet approved the introduction of the Criminal Procedure Amendment Bill, 2018, which amends the Criminal Procedure Act. The proposed Bill also extends the list of sexual offences in respect of prosecution.

The changes came about following the South Gauteng High Court’s judgement in the Levenstein court case, in which eight women wanted to lay criminal charges against Sidney Frankel, who they accused of being a paedophile. Frankel has since died.

In a unanimous judgment, the Constitutional Court said the law was “…inconsistent with the Constitution and invalid to the extent that it bars, in all circumstances, the right to institute a criminal prosecution for all sexual offences, other than rape or compelled rape; trafficking persons for sexual purposes and using a child or person who is mentally disabled for pornographic purposes; after the lapse of a period of 20 years from the time when the offence was committed.”

“The Amendment Bill will go a long way in tightening the justice system,” said Acting Cabinet spokesperson Phumla Williams at the time.

“The Bill in itself says that from now onwards, even if it’s 20 years later, you can choose to come out. There are various reasons some people die in silence and don’t report these crimes. But, at a later stage, a person will be able to say, ‘I was raped by a neighbour or by my cousin’,” she added.

The Constitutional Court gave Parliament two years to make the changes and signalled that inaction would result in an automatic implementation of its ruling.

The amendments enable the National Prosecuting Authority wider discretion to institute prosecutions in sexual offences, in accordance with Chapter 2 of the Constitution.

Minimum sentences

The Criminal Law Amendment Act 105 of 1997 compels courts to impose minimum sentences for certain crimes, unless compelling circumstances justify a lesser sentence.

The Act sets the prescribed minimum sentence of life imprisonment for crimes related to aggravated murder, aggravated rape and aggravated compelled rape. First-time rape offenders (without aggravating factors) will receive a minimum sentence of 10 years, second offenders will receive a minimum of 15 years and third offenders a minimum of 25 years.

The Criminal Law Sexual Offences and Related Matters Amendment Act further protects victims of GBV, outlining a variety of sexual abuse crimes.