South Africa: Criminal Justice System Not the Only Option for Survivors of Gender-Based Violence

opinion

Survivors of gender-based violence have the option of pursuing civil action against perpetrators - and it is also possible for a civil case to follow an unsuccessful criminal case. That an accused has been found 'not guilty' by a criminal court does not mean that they are in fact innocent.

While an effective criminal justice system that is responsive to the needs of victims and accountable for its failures is imperative, it remains true that despite progressive legislative and policy innovations (for example: the establishment of Thuthuzela Care Centres, amendments to sexual offences legislation, minimum sentencing guidelines as well as the repeated auditing and (re)establishment of specialist Sexual Offences Courts), the criminal justice system continues to miserably fail victims of gender-based violence (GBV).

Of the total number of cases of GBV that occur, only a fraction are reported. Of those that are reported and prosecuted (the latter not necessarily following the former) not all result in a conviction. Of those perpetrators who are convicted, many receive sentences that are not only wholly inappropriate but also send a clear message to millions of victims that both the heinous crimes committed and the intersectional harms suffered count for little when seemingly good...

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