While we celebrate Women’s Month, women in South Africa face some of the biggest issues since the start of our democracy. South Africa consistently ranks among the countries with the highest incidence of rape and violence against women in the world. While these alarming statistics unfold daily, the institutions in place to help prevent gender-based violence, and to aid victims, are inadequate.
In the days surrounding Women’s Day we received news of another woman killed by her partner, this time Aviwe Jam-Jam in Khayelitsha. On Monday, the Deputy Minister of Higher Education admitted to assaulting a woman in a club. Gender-based violence is ever-present at all levels of our society (as highlighted by #MenAreTrash), and South Africa clearly needs more than just hashtags and public holidays. In light of this, we want to return to the important call for Sexual Offences Courts, which should be dealing specifically with gender-based violence, yet have not been realised by the South African government.
In 2007, when the government introduced new laws to protect people from rape and other sexual- and gender-based crimes, it was hoped that Sexual Offences Courts would be the platform to help aid victims within the judicial system.
The Sexual Offences Courts would seek to:
- Prepare victims before trials start
- Debrief victims pre- and post-trial
- Offer private testifying rooms
- Offer private waiting for adult and child victims
- Offer fees for those who travel to the court as witnesses
Although an institution like this won’t solve things like rape culture prevalent in society, it will offer people greater hope of finding justice. To date, the government has been very slow to roll out this promise. This Women’s Day, there is a clear sense of frustration among women who have had enough of the constant threat of violence in their lives.
On Women’s Day, hundreds of women marched in Cape Town to call for an end to gender-based violence in the country; to demand that women have greater access to the justice system; and for the establishment of Sexual Offences Courts. Members of the DA marched in Diepsloot on Women’s Day. The protestors handed over a memorandum to the police department, calling for assistance for the survivors of rape and abuse. And earlier this year, News24 revealed that several members of the ANC Women’s League are pushing for the return of the death penalty for crimes such as rape. Although the League’s president Bathabile Dlamini stated that she doesn’t support the death penalty for perpetrators of femicide, she can see that the desire comes from women who are frustrated and aggrieved.
Rolling out dedicated Sexual Offences Courts would be one way to ensure that addressing gender-based violence is prioritised, and it would send a message that the effects of GBV on women is understood, and that the crimes are also treated seriously.
*There are currently some courts that specialise in sexual offences, but there are not nearly enough to be available to all people who have experienced gender-based violence, and they are not necessarily dedicated solely to sexual offences.