Empowering survivors: strengthening the criminal justice system

On Tuesday 11 September 2018, barely two weeks after Women’s Month, the South African Police Service (SAPS) briefed Parliament and delivered the latest South African crime statistics. At the briefing, it came to light that the killing of women and children made up some 20% of all murders and that the act of reporting rape has increased only marginally year-on-year. What does this mean for all of us as South Africans? How can we work to effectively challenge and change these statistics?

As a leading social investment organisation, Tshikululu has advised clients and implemented strategies that ensure access to justice for the vulnerable in society, especially women and children over the past several years. These strategies are designed in line with best practice and access to all, whether for urban, peri-urban or in rural settings.

When approaching gender-based violence response strategies, it is critical to provide equal and fair access to justice by working with civil society to strengthen the criminal justice system. This ensures the best possible outcome for survivors and their appropriate reintegration into communities and society.

As part of the process of selecting grantee organisations from civil society Tshikululu looks at what approach works where and why. In a rural setting for example, client strategies support the work of the Centre for Community Justice and Development (CCJD). This centre uses a model that understands and responds through the lens and context of rural communities using a network of advisory offices in these areas.

The offices provide trauma counselling and legal advice to survivors of gender-based violence, often mediating to end abuse, helping survivors to apply for protection orders, and running support groups where survivors receive advice and moral support. Key to the success of the CCJD is its understanding of the need for mediation between survivors and perpetrators in the rural setting – and how it can appeal to the existing social contracts in these communities to enable this approach.

Support in peri-urban areas like townships understandably looks very different, considering the impact of urbanisation and the melting pot of people who typically don’t share one single social contract. For strategies to be effective in this environment, they must take into account the nature of violence in densely populated areas.

An example of a grantee supported by a Tshikululu client in Diepsloot is Lawyers Against Abuse (LvA). LvA’s approach again gives insight into the specific nuances of this setting. The organisation uses a model that provides free legal and psychosocial support services to survivors of gender-based violence, including sexual violence, domestic violence and child abuse by facilitating structural change. This is done through strategic engagement with state actors in the community including public prosecutors and the SAPS. LvA supports survivors in their interaction with the criminal justice system, preparing them so that they are able to give the strong witness testimonies necessary for perpetrator conviction.

Needless to say, the importance of the role of funders in strengthening the criminal justice system through both of these examples cannot be overstated. This goes a long way in increasing abusers’ conviction rates, as well as reducing secondary trauma (trauma experienced from reporting violence) for survivors.

In a country where our femicide rate is five times that of the international rate, and on the back of my attendance of the recent national inter-sectional shut-down against gender-based violence attended by women who have survived and are surviving South African violence every single day, I salute funders who are patient enough to walk the all too slow journey to justice for women and work to empower survivors.

I also call on ordinary South Africans to do more to assist survivors across all our communities and all sectors of society. They need our help and support to walk this extremely difficult journey with courage. We need to take up their cause as our own. After all, access to justice and conviction of perpetrators is a right we all deserve regardless of our context.