A comprehensive look back, and a way forward – by Luke Lamprecht, Child Protection and Development Specialist
The 16 Days, when the country focuses on issues related to the abuse of women and children, is reflective of WMACA’s Advocacy Work 365 Days a Year. At the outset, we planned to highlight our place in the #NewDawn dream and the role we play in the realisation of four of the five points of the Gender Violence Emergency Plan launched by the President.
We focused on Prevention, Strengthening the Criminal Justice System, Enhancing the Policy and Ensuring adequate care, support and healing for victims of violence.
We highlighted each of these with cases we worked on or continue to work on. As WMACA, we have been fighting a campaign to say that child protection is everyone’s business and we all need to take collective responsibility. As much as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village looking away to allow a child to be hurt.
For prevention of child abuse to be successful, the community needs to understand how those who abuse children operate. Firstly, there is their motive to abuse, and these are as varied as the types of offenders. Secondly, there is the need to overcome their internal resistance to hurt children as they know it is wrong. We know they know it is wrong because they create and maintain secrets, and this is where the power of abuse lies. The abuser also needs to overcome external resistance – this is us, the whole of the South African community and its institutions. Finally, they need to overcome the resistance of the child which is via force or grooming.
It is the grooming that we need to pay particular attention to as the institutions that have children present will attract Career Offenders who seek jobs to gain access to children. We, as a broader society, need to be vigilant in this regard. WMACA has dealt with numerous cases where, not only did the children’s institutions not adequately protect children, but in fact tried to cover up and dis-incentivise families from reporting to the criminal justice system. These institutions used the perceived inefficiencies of the system as well as the perception of inevitable secondary trauma as a child victim enters this system as the reason for this. Our opinion, however, is that the institutions are merely protecting their reputations.
What does this mean for Mr Ramaposa’s prevention of child abuse pillar in the emergency plan? A few cases come to mind which highlight the vulnerability of children in institutions that do not adequately regulate employment or monitor staff appropriately. When abuse occurs the focus is on protecting the institution and its reputation: Johannesburg schools like Parktown and Bryanston, Cape Schools like Glenwood and Bishops. Enmeshed in these school systems was sport and at times religion that played a part in the abuse of power that led to harm to children and their families who had entrusted their children to these institutions.
Action 1: All people who work with children must be registered to work with children by a professional board eg SACE, HPCSA, SASCOC and its affiliates etc. In order to register, the educator, coach, priest etc. must show proficiency in child protection and development. In addition, they need to sign a code of conduct specific to the recognition of the danger adults may pose to children and pledge to not harm children and report adults who do. Finally, they must all be vetted against the Sexual Offender and Child Protection Registers.
If the child and family have overcome the institutional barriers to the entry to the Criminal Justice System, they need to be prepared for a system in which they are Witnesses for the State. It is a system that, despite Mr Ramaposa’s utterance and best intentions, is not victim centred. In fact, due to our adversarial system and a very poor human rights record in the past, our system is offender focused. The child victim needs to get the illusive CAS (Criminal Administrations System) number from adults at the local police station. Only then can the child get access to the specialised detective of the Family Child and Sexual Offences Unit (FCS) , who will then investigate their case. Oh yes, they need to be accompanied by an adult and make a statement and sign.
What if they are three years old and the step-father is the abuser (Baby Daniel) and the mother chooses the boyfriend over her child. Well, the child then has no access to the SAPS, never mind the FCS. In this case grandparents, other family, neighbours etc. knew but did nothing. Daniel died from severe and chronic physical abuse.
If the child victim and family manage to navigate the SAPS system, they then need a medical examination. In the past year there was a period where no forensic Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kits (SAECK) was available. This may be the only evidence to connect the child victim to the accused.
Once there is a docket, it then goes to court and may or may not be allocated to prosecutors who specialise in these cases in specific courts. Then the case may or may not be enrolled. When it is on the roll the defence can make representations to the SPP of the court, then the DPP then the NPDD, then again in the middle of the trial. All of this time, the child victim/witness waits. Many cases have been referred to WMACA where no turnaround time or no attempts at communication with the victims and families have been made by the State. Many have been awaiting prosecutorial decisions for over a year and all postponed to 2020. This is true of cases that appear simple, such as the Carltonville Creche Case, where there is video evidence.
If the case proceeds, the Prosecution need to prove their witness’ version to be true beyond a reasonable doubt to get a successful conviction. Logically, this means that the victim is assumed to be lying until proved otherwise. The accused does not have to prove anything. The defence cross examines the child witness with the version of the accused, who in 95% of cases is a person this child knew and trusted and who claims the witness is lying. Not a system fit for children in a world of adult dominance.
If there is a successful prosecution, the next step is sentencing and evidence in aggravation and mitigation of sentencing. Here is another system, as seen in the Bob Hewitt matter, where the accused is again put in the forefront of the minds of the system. Hewitt argued that his advanced age should be taken into consideration and that he “didn’t hurt anyone”. The victims had to give evidence of the damage caused to them and their families to get just the prescribed sentence. Again, it needs to be raised that abuse is power and if the accused gets to hear the power still holds over his victims, is that not counterintuitive for healing from abuse, especially in historical cases.
Then there is a sentence by the Judiciary who should set public opinion on how seriously we view these cases. Let us take you back to the Sunday Rapist whose final act was to kidnap, rape and burn a teenage victim. He had a previous conviction for sexual assault involving children in 2007. He was sentenced to three years in jail, suspended for three years. He was also sentenced to an unspecified amount of community service, which he performed at a Krugersdorp Hospital on Sunday mornings. At this time, he was stalking, raping and murdering children.
Action 2: There needs to be work done at every level of the criminal justice system to place victims at the centre of the work if it is to be strengthened.
What is the current picture IN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE FILTER?
1 IN 3 CHILDREN ABUSED
1 IN 9 (2.1% TO 15.2%) REPORT
20 547 REPORT TO THE SAPS ANNUALLY
2 283 ARRESTS
2 579 CASES REFERRED TO COURT
1 363 DECISION TO PROSECUTE
731 TRIAL STARTS
Then the Parole Board comes into play during the sentence. Here we are calling for:
Action 3: The Parole System needs to be overhauled as a way to enhance the policy and legislative system for sexual offences. Currently, the sentenced sex offender will only be on the Sex Offender Register and Child Protection Register if they are convicted of a sexual offence against a child or a person with a cognitive impairment. WHY NOT ALL SEX OFFENDERS?
In addition, through the multiple parole processes in the Hewitt matter, we have come to the realisation that there are both procedural and substantive matters to deal with to enhance the system. The one we are calling for as a first discussion is what happened to Mr Ramaposa’s call for no parole for sex offenders? In addition, we want the system reviewed where the onus must rest on the convicted sex offender to demonstrate he has been rehabilitated and this must be confirmed by expert evidence from the Department of Correctional Services. The process should be open to the public, like sentencing, and those opposing release should also be heard. It should not be the role of the victim, via victim impact statements, to keep him in jail. Their evidence was the reason for the conviction and sentence.
Common sense, and good theory, tells us that those who have experienced sexual abuse can and do heal. From victim to survivor to thriver to organiser (adult survivors who become activists against abuse). However, the system currently maintains perpetual victimhood and is a long way to recognising the President’s call for adequate care, support and healing for victims.
Action 4: Be kind if someone needs to be exposed to this victim unfriendly system and empower yourselves to be the village that raised a protected child.
For further comment please call:
Luke Lamprecht: Advocacy manager WMACA
065 168 2971