An application by an Anglican priest seeking an interdict from being named as an alleged rapist would silence millions of survivors countrywide if it were granted, the Western Cape High Court heard on Tuesday.
The priest was previously granted an interim order and was now seeking a final interdict, claiming that the social media posts naming him had caused irreparable harm to his rights of dignity and reputation.
On 12 March, Reverend June Dolley-Major publicly named the priest who allegedly raped her in 2002 at the home of the dean of studies at the Theological Seminary in Grahamstown.
A tribunal set up by the church in late 2020 to investigate the allegations was set to pronounce its verdict on September 14.
The tribunal was launched after the Board of Preliminary Enquiry (BPE) appointed by the church established there was a case to answer.
The priest, who cannot be named in terms of the law, but has been named in the tribunal, denied that the relief being sought was a "gag order".
However, legal counsel for Dolley-Major, Adv Chandre Brown argued that the only intention for the interdict was to "silence, humiliate, embarrass and strip Major of her dignity“.
Brown further argued that if the court were to grant the applicant the relief, this would not only silence Major but other survivors who had found a safe space to share their experiences on the Facebook page Say His Name.
"This is no longer about her. There's a community of other survivors that has come out to share their experiences in a safe space", Brown argued.
The court also heard Dolley-Major had publicly named the priest as her alleged rapist on social media as early as 2016.
"The only reason he is now approaching the court is because he was suspended as a priest in late 2020," Brown argued.
She further argued that the applicant could have lodged a defamation case but the process was more stringent.
The court also heard that other parishioners came out in support of Dolley-Major and shared stories of the priest's indiscretions involving allegations of improper behaviour towards women.
"As a priest he's in a position of trust and required to provide moral leadership, and now that he's been suspended he is unable to perform the function," argued Brown.
The Women’s Legal Centre (WLC) that was admitted an amicus curiae, or friend of the court, argued the case had widespread consequences for women who chose to name their perpetrators of sexual violence publicly and on social media.
Human rights lawyer, academic and activist, Professor Bonita Meyersfeld argued that the case should be heard in the context of Gender based violence.
Meyersfeld told the court that statistics showed that out of about 30 million women in the country, seven million were raped and the response of the criminal justice system was dismal.
She told the court that survivors turned to social media as a last resort not to seek revenge or destroy the reputation of the perpetrator.
"They turn to social media for healing. They find other women who have experienced similar trauma who understand and will not judge them," Meyersfeld told the court.
She argued that the court would have to balance the rights of the applicant against those of the survivor.
"When women come out they are vilified and are the ones who suffer. For the majority, they lose their jobs, family relationships are compromised and have little to gain," Meyersfeld argued.
She pleaded with the court to take into consideration that the criminal justice system was broken.
However, legal counsel for the priest Advocate Lynette Myburgh argued the court should not allow Dolley-Major to "violate" the rights of her client as the action was "malicious".
"This is an interdict application to stop Rev Major from stating allegations as fact... she cannot be allowed to continue to do so," argued Myburgh.
She maintained that the application was in support of his right to dignity and his right there was no shred of truth"in the rape allegations.
The case continues.