Sexual offences courts to combat gender violence

25 November 2013

The reinstatement of sexual offences courts will boost South Africa’s efforts to combat gender-based violence, says Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities Lulu Xingwana.

Xingwana was speaking to SAnews ahead of the launch of this year’s 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children campaign at Mmabatho stadium in Mafikeng, North West province on Sunday.

“With the re-opening of the sexual offences courts, the huge backlog of these cases [of violence against women and children], will be cut down,” Xingwana said.

She said the country’s fight against gender-based violence was far from being a losing battle.

“I cannot say I am happy, because the scourge is still unacceptable high. But what we are saying is that we’ve moved as government, as we’ve re-opened the sexual offences courts, and we’ve re-opened the family violence, child protection and sexual offences units within the South African Police Service.”

Justice Minister Jeff Radebe announced in August that 22 sexual offences courts were to be reintroduced by the end of the 2013/14 financial year, and that up to 57 sexual offences courts would be operational countrywide within in the next three years.

The courts will feature specially trained officials, procedures and equipment to reduce the chance of secondary trauma for victims.

There will be a proper screening process to identify cases that fall within the sexual offences category; a special room where victims will testify; a private waiting room for adult witnesses; and a private waiting room for child witnesses and victim support services.

The courts will also include special equipment to enable victims to identify the accused from the testifying room when required to do so, as well as a designated court clerk and a court preparation programme for witnesses to prepare for court and to provide debriefing after they have testified.

The concept of sexual offences courts was introduced in South Africa in 1993 and by the end of 2005, there were 74 sexual offences courts countrywide. The special courts had been phased out over the years because of budget constraints.

Radebe said the specialised courts would be prompt, responsive and effective, reduce secondary victimisation, improve the skills of court personnel, speed up the finalisation of cases and contribute to their efficient prosecution and adjudication.

Xingwana on Sunday urged South Africans to blow the whistle on gender-based violence in order to create a society that is safe and secure for women and children.

The minister also urged the law enforcement agencies to arrest and impose harsh sentences on those who are found guilty of abusing women and children.

Co-leading the launch, North West Premier Thandi Modise said her office was running a One Million Signature campaign against rape.

“Awareness is being created across the province, as we are working with the police and traditional leaders. We are also looking at tightening places of safety for victims,” Modise said. “We want to ensure that the vulnerable … are given enough self-confidence to report all cases of gender-based violence.”