“We're grateful. It's an incredible victory. But we are only halfway done.”
This was the reaction of Paul Diamond, one of the Frankel 8, after they succeeded this week in their widely lauded Constitutional Court bid to change the law around sex crimes.
Thursday's ruling at the apex court was the final hurdle, allowing victims of sexual abuse to open up criminal cases against their perpetrators, even decades after these incidents take place.
Before the Frankel 8’s long-running court battle, any sexual crime besides rape or compelled rape would prescribe after 20 years, meaning cases of historical abuse could not be prosecuted.
The Frankel 8 have spent years calling on the justice system to hold billionaire philanthropist Sydney Frankel accountable for allegedly abusing them decades ago when they were children.
While the group were adamant that changing the law would allow them to prosecute Frankel for his alleged crimes, he died last year from complications related to cancer.
Diamond said that while it was a disappointment that Frankel could not be criminally charged, the changing of the law would allow other survivors of abuse to finally come forward against the perpetrators.
“This animal (Frankel) was able to hide behind the law. He thought he would never be prosecuted.
“Even though he was right, other abusers will not be so lucky,” he told the Saturday Star.
The Constitutional Court ruled, in a unanimous judgment by 10 justices, that Section 18 of the Criminal Procedure Act - that prevented such crimes being prosecuted after 20 years - was irrational.
For Diamond, this part of the ruling was a major vindication, as it showed that sexual abuse of any kind would finally carry the weight it deserved in the criminal justice system.
At the time of the group's alleged abuse, very little would be done against sexual abusers who did not penetrate their victims, he said.
The years of fighting had been worth it, though. After hearing of the news on Thursday, Diamond said he found himself “in a dwaal”.
He was overwhelmed by the amount of effort by those involved in the legal battle, from the group’s lawyers, Ian Levitt and Anton Katz, to the child abuse organisations - such as Women and Men Against Child Abuse (WMACA) - that had joined the case as amicus curiae (friends of the court).
But the victory does not mean the end for Diamond and the other members of the Frankel 8, as they are also continuing with the civil case against Frankel - now his estate - for the pain and suffering they claim deserves compensation.
The group had initially launched the civil matter before the criminal case that led to Thursday’s ruling, as they believed they would never be able to criminally prosecute him.
But after years of delays, Diamond said that a date for the civil proceedings would likely be set down soon.
The ruling has been widely celebrated by child abuse and human rights organisations.
In a statement from WMACA, the organisation thanked the Frankel 8 for pushing their case to the absolute top of the court system.
“On behalf of all children as well as survivors of sexual abuse, in fact on behalf of all South Africans, WMACA sincerely thank all eight applicants in the Sidney Frankel case.
“Nicole Levenstein, Paul Diamond, George Rosenberg, Kathrine Rosenberg, Daniela McNally, Lisa Wegner, Shane Rothquel and Marinda Smith were extremely courageous in disclosing their abuse, for coming forward to lay charges against Frankel and for challenging the statute of limitations in that it unfairly discriminated against them.
“Their case now has opened the door for other survivors to bring their cases to court. They can finally be vindicated and their childhood trauma be acknowledged.
“They changed the landscape for other survivors,” the statement read.