Fikile Mbalula
Cape Town - For activists and the ministry of police, the recent rape and alleged police misconduct at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) is a reminder of the need to reform the criminal justice system to better address the needs, safety and comfort of survivors.

On May 6, a woman reported to UWC officials that a man had followed her into a bathroom at The Barn, a UWC bar, and raped her.

The woman’s sister reportedly went to UWC Campus Protection Services, but she said she was made to wait because CPS had not sent officers to the scene.

The survivor said she was further humiliated at Bellville police station. She claimed she was made to wait there for an hour. When they complained, they deduced from the officers’ argument that they had been ignored because officers dismissed rapes at UWC as an inevitable outgrowth of students partying too much and because they were black while the officers were coloured.

Ministry of Police spokesperson Vuyo Mhaga said: “The manner (in which) police responded to that woman was not professional. We are condemning that conduct.”

On April 26, newly installed Minister of Police Fikile Mbalula released a strategic plan that specifically noted that rapes go under-reported in part because victims often assume they were “badly treated by SAPS” and other criminal justice officials.

Mbalula announced he has drawn up policies to address these issues and that of serial rape, but the ministry is still waiting for feedback from SAPS before it can move to have it approved by Parliament.

Mhaga said the policy includes provisions that are already on the books, but seek stricter enforcement through a more professionalized police force. These include the right for survivors to be debriefed in a separate room and by a female police officer, if they so choose.

“We are retraining the police,” Mhaga said.

Jeanne Bodenstein, advocacy co-ordinator at the Rape Crisis Centre, said rank and file officers might be more likely to handle sexual assault cases professionally and compassionately if the entire criminal justice system was more oriented towards the needs of survivors.

The UWC rape comes 9 months after the Rape Crisis Centre launched its Rape Survivor Justice Campaign, which advocates for the establishment of specialised sexual offences courts that are built specifically around survivors.

In 2013, the a Department of Justice task force report noted the success of such courts in ensuring higher conviction rates and maintaining the well-being of survivors. They identified 57 regional courts nationwide to re-establish as sexual offences courts over the next three years.

Slightly behind schedule, at the March 27 opening of Sexual Offences Court in Boschfontein, Mpumalanga, Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development John Jefferey said it had reached 55 courts and would complete the final 2 by the end of the month.

He said it would move on to phase 2, which will see the re-establishment of 106 courts over the next 10 years.

Bodenstein said the country could use between 200 and 300 such courts, 30 to 40 per province.

In such courts, survivors are assigned specifically trained people from NGOs to guide them through the process.

The prosecutors and magistrates are specially trained.

There are designated waiting rooms so a survivor won’t have to wait outside with the defendant or the defendant’s family, along with special services that help minors and people with mental disabilities testify.

“The courts will also be better able to hold police accountable in an indirect way,” Bodenstein said.

“The whole system will be strengthened.”

Weekend Argus