Still no proper facilities for rape survivors at Khayelitsha court
Promises made in December have not yet been kept
Rape survivors visiting the Rape Crisis services at Khayelitsha Magistrates’ Court still have to walk “a distance” through the courtyard to its counselling rooms.
“This is in full view of the perpetrators and community members. This has to change soon,” says Neliswa Tshazi, court support coordinator at Rape Crisis.
About a month ago, Department of Justice Western Cape head Hishaam Mohamed told GroundUp that after a visit to the court by deputy minister John Jeffery in December, a new counselling facility for victims of sexual assault would be built by the end of May.
But when GroundUp visited the court on Thursday, very few changes had been made. In response to questions, Mohamed said work at the court “is expected to start [this week]”.
At the moment Rape Crisis operates from a small building right at the back of the court. Clients have to walk through a courtyard, under the windows of the court. “There is still a stigma attached to being raped in the community, so this is hard and people don’t really want to be identified,” Tshazi said.
“Court can be intimidating and we want to create a comfortable room for clients.”
Rape Crisis wanted its offices to be just outside the courtroom.
One client had been in the shed when she was called to testify in court and had been marked absent.
Campaign for specialised courts
The changes at Khayelitsha court follow a picket by Rape Crisis activists and supporters outside the court on 5 December 2017. The organisation also launched its campaign to force government to set up the specialised sexual offences courts. Activists believe the specialised courts will “help restore faith in the criminal justice system” and provide “dignified support for survivors” during the court process.
After a tour of the court, Jeffery admitted in December that the Khayelitsha facility “did not meet all of the necessary requirements” of a sexual offences court.
According to regulations which have not yet been finalised, sexual offences courts must have separate waiting rooms for victims, soundproof partitions, and anatomically correct dolls (for survivors to describe what happened), among other things. In April, Jeffrey told GroundUp that before these could be finalised, the department needed input from National Treasury and the Chief Justice.
He said not all sexual offences courts in the Western Cape were compliant even with existing regulations.
Mohamed said Khayelitsha would need “extensive capital” for upgrades and this could take two to three years to complete. “The victims of sexual offences cannot wait that long. We are bringing interim measures,” he said.
Mohamed said the department of justice would install soundproof partitions in Khayelitsha, and new furniture and equipment in the courtroom by the end of May.
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