Victims of sexual crimes will now have access to victim-friendly, efficient and sensitive services through the Sexual Offences Courts launched by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development.
The department recently launched the Durban (KwaZulu-Natal) and Atlantis (Western Cape) Sexual Offences Courts. “The central theme, which underlies much of the department’s work, is to ensure that all people in South Africa are and feel safe,” said Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha during the launch of the Atlantis Sexual Offences Court.
The launch of the courts not only forms part of the department’s commitment to access to justice services to the victims of sexual crimes, but also gives effect to the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act 32 of 2007.
In June 2012 a Ministerial Advisory Task Team was appointed on the Adjudication of Sexual Offences Matters (MATTSO) to investigate the possibility of re-introducing sexual offences courts in the country. In August 2013 MATTSO submitted a recommendation to upgrade 57 regional courts into sexual offences courts over a period of three years.
“Since August 2013 the department has established 43 sexual offences courts, which function to the model recommended by MATTSO. We strive to deliver victim-centred services,” said Minister Masutha.
Sexual offences courts provide specialised victim-support services to avoid secondary victimisation and trauma to the victim of sexual crime, by treating the victim with dignity and ensuring their privacy.
The new model also aims to improve the conviction rates of the sexual crimes and decreases the turnaround time from the date of report to the police to the finalisation of the case.
“The conviction rate relating to sexual offences has also increased and in the first quarter of 2015/16 the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) indicated a 71.1 per cent conviction rate,” said Minister Masutha.
Durban Sexual Offences Court
Speaking at the launch of the Durban Sexual Offences Court, Director-General Nonkululeko Sindane emphasised that the launch of the court showed the department’s commitment to dealing with violence against vulnerable groups in the society.
Community members are hoping that these courts will help fight the scourge of sexual violence in their communities. Nu Nomthembu from Chersterville in KwaZulu-Natal expressed her concern about the alleged rape of a two-week-old child in 2010.
“We hope that with the help of the Durban Sexual Offences Court the alleged rape case can be followed up,” she said. Director of the NPA in KwaZulu-Natal Advocate Moipone Noko promised to follow up on the case.
Members of civil society and community members are encouraged to work with government to fight sexual violence in communities.
“In order to create safer communities and a safer country government has to rely on the support of civil society. Only through partnerships can we hope to address crime and ensure that our people are and feel safe,” said Minister Masutha.
The new model sexual offences courts offer the following services:
• Court preparation services: The programme familiarises you with court processes, procedures, services and benefits. It aims to help you to be an effective witness in court. On the date of trial, you will be welcomed by the Court Preparation Officer (CPO).
• Intermediary services: If you are a child victim or a person with mental disability, the prosecutor will apply to the court to allow you to testify in a private testifying room with the assistance of an intermediary. An intermediary conveys questions from the court to you in an understandable manner.
• Private waiting rooms for adult and child victims: The child witness room has furniture specifically designed to meet the needs of traumatised children. It also has a play area, reading centre and a bed-sofa for resting. The adult waiting room is also furnished to make the court experience more comfortable for victims.
• Pre- and post- trial trauma debriefing services: The CPO will take you through trial trauma debriefing sessions before the trial commences and once it is concluded, to help you deal with the trauma of the incident.
Private testifying room/closed court services: If you are an adult witness, the law allows you to testify from a private testifying room via a closed-circuit TV system if you feel more comfortable doing so. This ensures that you do not have to be in the physical presence of the accused when testifying.
• Witness fee services: The department provides witness fees to cover your return travelling costs and food while in court.
THUTHUZELA CARE CENTRE FOR ATLANTIS:
As part of victim support services Minister Masutha launched the Atlantis Thuthuzela Care Centre (TCC) at Wesfleur Hospital. Thuthuzela Care Centres are one-stop facilities mainly based within health facilities. They provide a one-stop service centre in which all departments critical to collecting evidence in response to the victim and in preparation of a successful prosecution are based at one place. There are 55 TCC sites providing dedicated services to victims of sexual violence, of which 50 are fully operational, compared to 38 in the previous financial year.
* Sinenhlanhla Mkhwanazi works for the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development.