Chevonne Rusch killers to be sentenced 29 April





Stefan van Niekerk and Rochelle Botha were found guilty of the murder of two-year-old Chevonne Rusch in the Johannesburg High Court on November 17.

Both were also found guilty of rape, involving another minor child. They were convicted of various other charges as well, including attempted murder, sexual assault, child abuse and neglect.

Women and Men Against Child Abuse (WMACA) fully agree with the state’s request of 3 life terms and 20 years each, for the toddler’s mother Rochelle (23) and the mother’s boyfriend Stefan (35), in punishment of the abuse of the  children in their care, and the torture and eventual death of Baby Chevonne. And it must be said that the mother carries AS MUCH BLAME due to her inaction to actively protect her children.

Why they must be put away:

When WMACA’s Luke Lamprecht testified in aggravation of sentence earlier this month, he highlighted the following:

A parent has two primary duties in terms of their children; a negative duty, not to harm and a positive duty to actively protect their children.

The care component is broadly known as attachment and needs to be “good enough” for the child to develop trust and this is one of the two most important components of subsequent personality organisation and mental health across the whole lifespan. It is known as the “nurture” part of the nature/nurture debate.

In this case they did not only NOT protect their children, but actively harmed their children in a way that if these children were adult prisoners of war their captors would be charged with war crimes. These attacks were continuous and sustained and it is clear that both caregivers knew what they were doing was wrong as they hid the children from other caregivers and authorities. This child’s life could have been saved.

It is also clear that the mother chose her sexual partner over her children and that both chose one thing over everything else; drugs..

Ironically, she did not want to bath her child despite previously saying her male partner could not be in the bathroom when the girls were there, after a previous disclosure of sexual abuse.  All of the while deafening herself to her child’s screams from the bathroom, being more concerned with her nails and a cigarette in the sun.

Ironically again, she did not want to go to the mortuary to identify her baby girl because she would be traumatised by the wounds, but she saw them prior to her death (or would have if she made any effort). She then, on cross examination, did not want to further traumatise her child but DID put both her children through the court case by not taking any responsibility for the harm caused to her children.

Once they were caught for the murder of the youngest child, Rochelle Botha attempted to evade justice by claiming domestic abuse by her partner. If she was afraid of this man and he was hurting her, imagine what the children endured. This excuse was shown to be false, and normally, when the men in domestic violence cases start harming the children, that is when the mothers tend to seek help and leave the relationship. She did neither, and actually assisted in hiding the abuse from other family members and authorities and admitted that she too beat the middle male child.

With this profile in mind, her chances of successful rehabilitation is very poor as she has no ability to take the perspective of her children and as a result her ability to protect them has been shown to be absent. What this implies is that she has a poor internal locus of control (also seen in her substance abuse) and as a result needs external control (structural ie. prison).

If you tortured prisoners of war in this way, you would be charged with War Crimes

As for Stefan van Niekerk he, very simply put, tormented these children. He beat, sexually assaulted, burned and bludgeoned the youngest to death over a period of time. One needs to have a picture in mind of an adult man and a three year old child, not even a metre tall and weighing only 20 kgs. He chose over 49 times to harm her little body so that there were very visible marks and finally beat her head multiple times with a blunt object and killed her. Later he changes his version continuously and at one point says he accidentally killed her and in other parts blames the little brother for the marks.

Here we see classic defences in perpetrators of child abuse. Firstly, denial of fact “I know nothing, I didn’t do it.” Secondly, denial of impact “it wasn’t so bad, it was an accident” and thirdly, denial of responsibility “it wasn’t me, it was her/him etc. He takes absolutely no responsibility for the neglect, abuse and death of the child. He mentions needing drugs or else he becomes aggressive and, even more distressingly, at some point appears to be jealous of a three year old child and how she is in some bizarre way a threat to his relationship with her mother.

As with the mother, there is a deeply self-serving motive for his behaviour. He has no ability to take the perspective of the children, it is all about his needs. Further, he seems to want to harm the children as a way of getting to the mother and does not see them as individuals in their own right, deserving of care.

He has no remorse at all, but rather regrets being caught. We can’t help having a picture in mind of the hole being dug in the yard, and if the neighbours weren’t there to insist on the child going to the hospital, where the child would have ended up.

All of the above talk to a very poor prognosis for rehabilitation as he takes no responsibility for this behaviour, which was a pattern, over a significant period of time and increased in severity, until he killed a 20kg three year old.

Impact of the abuse:

If we start with the youngest, Chevonne, 49 individual injuries on the body, external and internal head injuries, black eyes and burned lips. Looking at the crime scene photos makes the average person want to avert their eyes, lest they have these pictures haunt their nights. However, in this home, not only could they bear the sight of such immense suffering, but they without hesitation added daily to the suffering. We cannot begin to imagine the beating, burning, inability to eat, asking for care, being refused, having a caregiver angry at you for not getting to the toilet on time, washing you in cold water and then, maybe because you were crying, put you in, or under, water and then killed you. All of this while you scream for your mother, who doesn’t come as she doesn’t want to spoil her nails and is enjoying a cigarette in the sun, deaf to the screams that then ended in death.

Let us not forget Chevonne’s siblings; A sister of 4 at the time and a brother of 3. They too suffered tremendously at the hands of these monsters.

For the middle male child, the tragedy is also unimaginable. What is deeply distressing about his short and terrifying life is that it appears he was abused for over a year. Again, the adult male caregiver makes up various versions to explain the injuries rather than taking responsibility. There are haunting images while reading the transcript where a man in his thirties boxes with a child of under a metre tall weighing only 30 kgs. There were upward of 16 individual visible injuries on his small body,  inflicted over a period of time. This is not a man who loses his temper once and beats a child.

This man systematically and sadistically tortured this little boy, it seems either for no reason, to get back at the mother and/or because he enjoyed hitting this little boy.

Added to this was the exposure to substance abuse and forcing the child to take drugs as well. An image that remains in the mind is the one where this man melts the little boy’s toys. This child had very little to begin with, but the little he had was destroyed by the adult caregiver. One can only imagine that he did this while looking for a reaction from this little boy, a reaction of desperation and distress as these few possessions were destroyed.

The devastating part of this child’s history is the fact that he was taken to hospital, where a very clear and good J88 was completed confirming, unequivocally, long-term physical abuse. Yet, no one intervened, or could not intervene. Around one month later his sister was murdered. One cannot even begin to imagine what these experiences have done to this child’s lifelong development, but we know it is devastating as trauma wreaks havoc in the developing brain. Research has clearly shown that the impact causes disability on a continuum in these children and an enormous amount of intervention is needed to mitigate this attack on childhood. Children are not resilient, they need adults to facilitate their optimal development. They don’t just “bounce back”.

For the eldest female child, two key factors compound the toxic stresses faced: witnessing violence and experiencing incestuous sexual abuse. These combined experiences contribute to what is known as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Instead of finding safety and relaxation at home, these children endure a state of constant alertness, unable to fight (too small) or flee from the threat. This prolonged exposure to stress triggers a persistent release of stress hormones, impacting their current and future development, particularly during the critical first five years of life.

Witnessing violence by those who are supposed to care for you in childhood, in the home where you should be protected, has profound and lasting negative impacts on a child’s development, well-being, and future potential.

It has been acknowledged in the vast literature around childhood trauma (especially in children under 5) that PTSD is not sufficient to explain the impact on children. In addition, there are additional complex dynamics if that trauma is sexual and incestuous by the male caregiver and the mother figure knows about the abuse but does not protect the child.

When that mother knows, doesn’t act, chooses the offender over the child and allows further access of the offender to the child, it has been shown to produce the highest levels of trauma and poorer recovery over time.

It is unimaginable to torture a small child to death and then take no responsibility for, nor mourn their death. Equally unimaginable, is participating and allowing the tormenting of childhoods for sexual and sadistic selfish needs, and the primary caregiver looks on.

There is nothing to suggest these adults are remorseful nor take any responsibility for these childhoods devastated and destroyed. As a result their prognosis for any form of rehabilitation and reintegration into a civilised society is extremely poor and therefore need long term structural containment.

In addition, the children need to see adult authority punish the adults who decimated their childhood as this is part of their healing and the prevention of the intergenerational transmission of abuse called “The WAR (World of Abnormal Rearing) Cycle.

“I cannot think of a version of the world where we would want these adults to be in a society that they so blatantly broke the most sacred of our social compacts, protective caring parenting. It seems that this child’s presence wasn’t celebrated as a gift, and her passing wasn’t mourned by those responsible for her death” Lamprecht said in closing

** ENDS **

For further information:

Luke Lamprecht 065 168 2971

Miranda Jordan 083 250 6821

About Luke Lamprecht:

Luke has 32 years’ experience in child protection and development. A Director and case manager for the Shaken and Abused Baby Initiative (SAABI-Babies Matter) and Advocacy Manager for Women and Men Against Child Abuse. Completed the coursework component for a Master of Sciences in Child Health with a Neurodevelopmental speciality at the University of the Witwatersrand, with a subspecialty in Child Protection. Specifically the neuroanatomy of Inflicted Infant Head Injuries, the neurophysiology of developmental trauma and the psychological and psychiatric dynamics of child abuse and neglect.

He is conducting research into missed child murders in the City of Johannesburg within the Department of Paediatrics and Forensic Medicine, as well as multidisciplinary child protection training.

Luke is also a guest lecturer for paediatricians, pathologists and registrars on the phenomenon of Non-Accidental Injury Syndrome (NAIS) in infants and toddlers. He has lectured on the MSc Developmental course and has supervised Honours students in Concealment of Birth, Infanticide and Child Homicide for the Department of Forensic Medicine, all within the Department of Paediatrics and Forensic Pathology at the Medical School of the University of the Witwatersrand. Luke founded and remains  director of the Johannesburg Child Advocacy Forum (Child Rights Organisation).

About WMACA:

Women and Men Against Child Abuse is a Non-Profit organisation, established in 1997. Now in its 27th  year of operation, it remains at the forefront of raising awareness of the many and complicated issues around child abuse, child sexual abuse, GBVF,  and SGBV, while at the same time providing FREE quality holistic treatment services to victims of child abuse at the Kidz Clinics in Alexandra Township and on the East Rand.

WMACA’s Advocacy division focus public, judicial and media attention on important cases to create awareness of all the aspects and issues surrounding child abuse and to put pressure on sometimes inadequate legal processes, in order to move cases involving children through the court system quickly and effectively. Other global issues such as child pornography and human trafficking are also brought to the fore, to educate the public and empower victims.