Category: Inclusive, Enabling Communities | Women and children affected by abuse/violence | 30 September, 2014 - 20:00← BACK
In the absence of legislation that empowers victims of violent crime – including rape – communities in the Western Cape can develop the capacity to address these issues at the local level. At at the same time, they can learn to participate in campaigns to persuade government to enact more relevant victim empowerment legislation. This learning brief reflects on the research findings of a 2011 study into gaps in the current legislation that might disempower victims of violent crime. The brief lists the main gaps identified, and suggests strategies to address these gaps. Then it proceeds to explore ways that communities can build their capacity to respond to rape and violent crime in the face of these systemic gaps.
In 2011, a coalition of organisations came together to conduct research[i] into the need for and feasibility of legislation that would empower victims of violent crime by addressing gaps in current legislation. These organizations include: The Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust (RCCTT) in partnership with the Open Democracy Advice Centre (ODAC), the Women’s Legal Centre (WLC), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the national Department of Social Development (DSD). The final report identified numerous gaps and suggested structural and legislative reforms to help address the gaps.
Since legal reform is a lengthy and time consuming process, practical ways of addressing the identified gaps at the community level were also proposed. Rape Crisis tested some of these solutions with communities in Khayelitsha, Lansdowne, Cape Town, and Athlone. We developed an information booklet for both rape survivors and officials, offered specialised training to criminal justice system officials in how to support rape survivors, and identified coalition partners and community spokespersons to lobby government as part of a cohesive influence or advocacy strategy. We discuss each of these strategies below, in brief.
Gaps in current South African law and legal system that disempower victims
Within South Africa’s current legal framework, several provisions exist that seek to empower victims of crime. However these are scattered in a piecemeal fashion throughout a number of separate pieces of legislation[ii]. There is no single comprehensive law that acknowledges and seeks to address the needs of victims of crime. Moreover, many elements of current policy and legislation are poorly implemented. As a result a number of gaps exist that continue to disempower victims:
What can be done to address these gaps?
It is fortunate that these gaps are all quite clear, since it means that potential solutions come quickly to mind, as follows:
How can communities build their capacity to respond to rape and violent crime in the face of these gaps?
Become better informed
In order to help communities become better informed about victims rights, Rape Crisis developed strategies that respond to a number of solutions recommended by the study. Our first concern was to revise information for communities, rape survivors, officials and service providers in the field of rape. We aimed to provide up-to-date information on the changes in policy and legislation. The information was collated into a handy booklet called The Road to Recovery: You and rape. A Xhosa version of this booklet is much needed. This booklet was distributed at police stations, health facilities, courts, Rape Crisis counselling services, and at all information sharing and training workshops. A copy is available for download on our website.
Develop specialised skills to keep rape survivors informed about their legal case
Rape Crisis offers training courses to officials and community based volunteers used by government service providers to help them be better equipped to inform and support rape survivors presenting at police stations. We host a series of four, three-hour workshops with groups of around fifteen participants. The goal of the workshops is to equip officials and volunteers with the necessary knowledge, attitudes, and skills to behave sensitively when responding to rape survivors, and in so doing to help them comply with the Government’s Service Charter for the Victims of Crime and Violence. This Victim’s Charter is a justice-promoting instrument aimed at reducing secondary trauma and enabling survivors to access their rights. Workshop topics cover rape in South Africa, understanding the skewed nature of our official statistics, definitions of rape and the impact of its trauma on survivors, how to offer support in a manner that empowers survivors, and how to understand and challenge the myths and stereotypes about rape that negatively influence attitudes and behaviour. Participants at these workshops leave feeling confident and prepared to interact with rape survivors at police stations because they have specific knowledge about criminal justice system processes, and because they understand their role in supporting rape victims.
Speak out: become a spokesperson in the community
Rape Crisis has embarked on a series of community dialogues aimed at finding out community member opinions on the gap analysis research, and general views on the drivers of rape in their communities. We conducted these dialogues with street committees in Khayelitsha, with a group of community and faith based organisations in Manenberg, and with a group of youth in Khayelitsha schools. After a brief presentation of the research findings the participants were asked to divide up into smaller groups for in-depth discussion, after which a group spokesperson presented feedback to the plenary audience. In this way community members were able to present their views, opinions, and suggestions, and add to the original research findings their experiences of violence against women.
The community members who attended these dialogues unanimously agreed with the gaps identified in the research and confirmed their general lack of knowledge about the criminal justice system. Rape Crisis used these dialogue sessions to validate research findings, and simultaneously to raise awareness about our cause.
Use media to raise awareness publically
We hired a part time coordinator to run the awareness campaign. A website, Facebook page, and Twitter account have been set up with regular postings to convey information to the broader interested community. We published Facebook posts on the community dialogues. Local media outlets picked up on the posts and numerous newspaper and online articles followed, as well as two radio interviews. We issue press releases on important community issues relevant to the topic of violence, such as the news that several police officers were arrested for rape. In this way we can speak out about rape and the legal support structures for victims in the community.
Build a coalition to lobby decision makers
In addition to the research activities, the research-implementing partners continually convene monthly project planning meetings, and engage with members of the coalition steering committee. The steering committee engages in regular teleconferences, and seven new members joined the coalition in 2013. We are committed to partnering with like-minded organisations in order to strengthen support for victims of violent crime in South Africa. This coalition of organizations is tasked with lobbying the relevant authorities for legislative and practical changes that would address the gaps highlighted by the research findings. However, he identified spokespersons for the coalition will need better media and parliamentary training if they are going to address constituents and decision makers effectively.
The coalition that conducted this research is a case study of a successful organizational partnerships and community engagement. The research findings were endorsed and affirmed by community representatives, and by the success of subsequent interventions. The findings were also used to advance an advocacy campaign, and communities show a great deal of support for the campaign. We believe that in the absence of legislation that empowers victims of violent crime, communities in the Western Cape can develop the capacity to address these issues. At the same time, they can participate in campaigns to persuade government to enact more relevant victim empowerment legislation. This learning brief has suggests some strategies to aid communities build their capacity to respond to rape and violent crime in the face of legislative systemic gaps.
[ii] The legislative instruments that were considered included the Domestic Violence Act No. 116 of 1998, the Witness Protection Act 112 of 1998, the Probation Services Act No. 116 of 1991 and Amendment No. 35 of 2002, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Act 32 of 2007, the Judicial Matters Second Amendment Act No. 55 of 2003, the Older Persons Act 2006 (Act No. 13 of 2006), the Children’s Act No 38 of 2005, the Children’s Amendment Act 41 of 2005 and the Child Justice Act No. 75 of 2008.
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This learning brief reflects on the research findings of a 2011 study into gaps in the current legislation that disempower victims of violent crime. It lists the main gaps identified, and suggests strategies to address these gaps. Then it proceeds to explore ways that communities can build their capacity to respond to rape and violent crime in the face of these systemic cavities.