Cheryl Zondi testifies in the Timothy Omotoso rape trial in the Port Elizabeth High Court. Picture: Screengrab

Cape Town - Women's rights and sexual violence prevention organisations are demanding more humane and sensitive ways of dealing with abuse victims during court cases.

The call intensified this week after the public watched the harsh cross-examination of Cheryl Zondi by defence attorney Peter Daubermann. Zondi is the first witness in the case against Nigerian televangelist Timothy Omotoso.

Omotoso is accused of luring more than 30 girls and women from various branches of his church and holding them as sex slaves at a house in uMhlanga, KwaZulu-Natal.

Zondi, a University of Johannesburg student, has waived her right to remain anonymous during the trial, which is being broadcast live on TV. She has been on the stand since Monday. After her testimony on Wednesday, the court went into recess so she could write her exams.

Organisations have complained that the sort of questioning Zondi was subjected to is a form of secondary victimisation.

Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation manager Dominique Dix Tyson said courts should not treat victims like they were criminals, but should instead help and support them.

“Victims need to be put in friendly spaces while testifying, preferably away from their perpetrator. Also, prosecutors need to get compulsory training that will teach them how to speak to and deal with victims without indirectly accusing them and making them feel deserving of rape,” she said.

These sentiments were echoed by Shaheda Omar, a director at the Teddy Bear Clinic. She said the courts needed to implement a system that would not dehumanise victims.

“The treatment she (Zondi) is receiving in court is one of the main reasons that victims rarely come forward. It affects them negatively, and we have seen this in our work on the ground with victims. This is secondary victimisation.

“The victim is treated as a perpetrator, and this is also secondary trauma, especially for someone who has gone through an ordeal of this nature. Victims also get asked, ‘what were you doing there’ and ‘what were you wearing’, questions that make them look guilty,” said Omar.

She added that if victims had been raped and violated while they were young, they gained the strength and maturity to report the case only once they were older, and they sometimes do not remember the full ordeal, which then enables the defence to plant seeds of doubt in judges’ minds.

The Commission for Gender Equality said that since Monday they had received numerous calls offering Zondi support.

“Although the commission respects the independence of the judiciary, gender blindness cannot be used as a source of inadvertent secondary victimisation. The commission will continue to raise this pertinent question with the Magistrates Commission, the Bar Council and the judiciary as a whole on the unfairness that rape survivors go through while testifying.

“It is plainly unfair to subject them to such inhumane treatment, whereas those who did the act are treated favourably.

"The commission has always argued that even if the intention is to seek justice by laying women bare in courts, the same justice-seeking mechanisms should not allow prejudice and patriarchal nuances to find expression in the cause of seeking the truth,” the commission said.

The case continues next week.

* Read more on the #OmotosoTrial here

The Star