Blue Downs court’s woes lead to further trauma for child victims, says activists
Cape Town - The Ukubavimba Foundation has lambasted the justice system at the Blue Downs Magistrate’s Court for failing the victims of sexual offences.
The organisation said there was a serious challenge at the court as the room from which young victims testify was not soundproof. The organisation is currently intervening in two cases involving the rape of minors, one of which has been dragging on for almost five years.
The foundation's director, advocate Venice Burgins, said the Blue Downs Magistrate’s Court was one of the newest courts, yet the room from where minors must testify was not soundproof.
“The prosecutor drew our attention to the fact that the court is not compliant with requirements to hear any of these types of cases involving minors, as the courtroom where the child witness ought to be seated is not soundproof.
“We understand that in another similar case before the court, the child witness could hear everything being relayed during the trial, resulting in that case being transferred to the Parow court. In a further bizarre example of the complete disconnect in our judiciary - and evidence of secondary trauma - the child victim in that matter has been under cross-examination for 18 months now,” she said.
The father of the 10-year-old victim in that case, who asked to not be named, said the postponements were upsetting and frustrating for the family, while taking a toll on his son’s mental health.
“The case went to court in January 2019 and we have been appearing almost every month since then, and every time it is postponed. In the beginning they told us that they will prepare him for the trial but until now no one has told us to bring him in (for consultation).
“The last time they postponed the case, they said that the soundproof booth where he is supposed to sit was not ready. We currently do not know if it's sorted, and also he hasn't been prepared but he is expected to appear in court next week,” he said.
Burgins said trials that dragged on resulted in families experiencing trauma.
“The delay in justice has had a tremendous impact upon these families in that it has caused trauma upon the existing trauma.The disconnect breaks down families and marriages and causes so much strain on the victim as well as the family circle.
“The one case, it was so traumatising for the little one as he could hear everything. This caused a strain on the family unit and ultimately led to the little one trying to commit suicide and the mother being served with divorce papers,” she said.
National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Eric Ntabazalila said stoppages in court during the 10-year-old boy’s case had led to postponements.
Ntabazalila said that the soundproofing problem at the Blue Downs Magistrate’s Court had been investigated, and that renovations could have had an effect on the soundproofing of the room.
“With that in mind, we continued with the matter in Parow Regional Court in an attempt to assist the victim and finalise his testimony. Unfortunately, in both instances at Parow Regional Court, the victim became emotional again and the trial had to be postponed again,” he said.
“The challenge of the soundproofing of the intermediary (room) was reported to the court manager, and it was attended to. It has since been fixed,” he said.