Cape Town 101021. MEC Albert Fritz at a Community meeting in Khayelitsha. PHOTO SAM CLARK

Cape Town - New legislation is in the pipeline to ensure that victims of crime are safeguarded, the Social Development Department has revealed.

Making the announcement at a Victim Empowerment Summit in Mitchells Plain on Tuesday, Lebo Molai, head of the department’s monitoring and evaluation unit, said research conducted by Rape Crisis Cape Town, the Women’s Legal Centre and the Open Democracy Advice Centre two years ago had prompted the department to “put the ball in motion”.

“Because of the research, the national department is in the process of drafting victim empowerment legislation.” In the meantime, Molai said, memorandums of understanding had been developed with various departments and organisations to ensure that victims of crime were given proper treatment and were protected.

The research report “The Road to Justice: Victim empowerment legislation in South Africa” was released in August 2011. Its authors highlighted the needs of victims and the impact of trauma.

A number of recommendations were made, including improving communication and education about people’s rights in the criminal justice system, providing victims of crime with better information about their cases, and providing psychosocial care and support through victim advocates.

The report also recommended improved accountability mechanisms through the establishment of a victims’ ombud office.

Jennifer Williams, director of the Women’s Legal Centre, said she was pleased the department had finally started drafting the legislation, but warned that it needed to be comprehensive.

“Current legislation and policies focus on the perpetrator rather than the victim,” Williams said. “This has to change. We need a victims’ ombud office to oversee victims’ rights in this country. The only solution is victim empowerment legislation.”

Williams said the role of the victims’ ombud office would, in part, be informational and focus on advising victims of their rights and of the programmes and services available to them.

“However, such an office would also be responsible for receiving and reviewing victims’ complaints concerning service provision at any of the many departments (police, health, justice, etc) with which victims interact,” she said.

Legislation would also ensure a budget, clearly defined roles of government departments and improved inter-sectoral collaboration, Williams said.

Social Development MEC Albert Fritz said the provincial government would support the proposed legislation.

“However, provision is made for an ombudsman in the Community Safety Bill which is currently before the legislature,” he said.

“The ombud will be a judge and victims of crime would also be able to report any problems or concerns to the Western Cape ombud office.”

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Cape Argus