6 November 2017

South Africa: Authorities Must Ensure Sexual Offences Act Works

Justice and Constitutional Development Deputy Minister John Jeffery says government, civil society and the courts owe it to victims of sexual offences to make sure the Sexual Offences Act is properly implemented.

Briefing the media in Tshwane on Monday, the Deputy Minister said laws are only as good as the people who implement them.

The briefing comes after a two-day National Forum on the implementation of the Sexual Offences Act conducted by the department and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) last week.

The forum was attended by approximately 250 participants, including civil society organisations, regional magistrates and officials from the South African Police Service (SAPS), NPA and the Departments of Justice and Constitutional Development, Health, Social Development and Women.

Deputy Minister Jeffery said the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act relies heavily on various role players at different stages within the criminal justice system to make implementation effective.

The act was enacted in 2007 in response to the view that common and statutory law did not deal adequately or effectively with many aspects of the commission and adjudication of sexual offences.

According to the Deputy Minister, the act changed many things.

"It reformed and codified the law relating to sexual offences. It expanded the definition of rape to include all non-consensual sexual penetration and it equalised the age of consent for females and males to 16 years.

"It sought to provide uniform and co-ordinated approach to the implementation of laws relating to sexual offences so as to provide adequate and effective protection to the victims of sexual offences and thus preventing secondary victimisation and traumatisation," Deputy Minister Jeffery said.

The act also provides for various services to the victims of sexual offences, including free post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV, and the ability to obtain a court order to compel HIV testing of the alleged offender.

The recent crime statistics indicate that there were about 49 660 reported sexual offences in South Africa in 2016/17.

"Suffice to say that the prevalence of sexual offences in South Africa remains unacceptably high," said Deputy Minister Jeffery.

In terms of the act, national instructions for the SAPS, as well as national detectives for the NPA have been implemented for the practical management of sexual offences cases.

National Forum outcomes

The National Forum was held to critically evaluate the implementation and impact of the act since it came into operation, and to identify the challenges that continue to compromise its successful implementation.

It was noted, during discussions, that each role player will either independently and/or collectively have a specific impact on how authorities in the criminal justice system respond to matters.

The forum resolved that continuous stakeholder cooperation is paramount in the management of sexual offences.

The absence of professional skills and sensitive attitudes towards victims on the part of some government officials tasked with managing sexual offences was highlighted.

"This highlights the need for ongoing social context training for all role players. In certain instances, there is a lack of specific legal knowledge relating to sexual offences laws and procedures.

"Basic skills in statement-taking and trial advocacy were identified as lacking, indicating the need for ongoing and continuous skills development, including training and mentoring," said Deputy Ministe Jeffery.

The Deputy Minister said there is also a need for adequate protocols and their related application among stakeholders at all levels. Minimum standards are also needed to ensure improved service delivery by all stakeholders.

He said emphasis should be placed on a victim-centred approach in supporting the seven rights contained in the Victims of Crime Charter, reflecting the rights of victims in the Bill of Rights.

"As a way forward, the resolutions of the National Forum are to be included in a National Action Plan, which will be monitored by the National Forum Steering Committee, [which] will have representatives from all relevant government departments and civil society," said the Deputy Minister.

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