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Media Briefing: National Forum on the Implementation of the Sexual Offences Act

Statement by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, the Hon JH Jeffery, MP, 6 November 2017

Laws are only as good as the people who implement them.

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 such implementation effective.

From the police who register reported sexual offences cases, to the investigation of cases by detectives, to the doctors and nurses who collect forensic evidence and medically treat sexual violence victims, to civil society organisations providing victim support services, and to the prosecutors in the courts - many different people play different roles at various stages in the process. All these role-players are crucial.

It is therefore imperative that we hear from them how the Act is working, what the shortcomings and challenges are, and how to address these.

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

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 a 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.

Importantly, it 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.

In terms of the Act, National Instructions for the South African Police Service, as well as National Directives for the National Prosecuting Authority have been implemented for the practical management of sexual offences cases.

The Act came into operation in December 2007. It is therefore an opportune time, a decade later, to reflect on the extent to which the Act has succeeded in achieving its objectives.

For this reason the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, in partnership with the National Prosecuting Authority, conducted a two-day National Forum on the implementation of the Act at Emperors Palace, Kempton Park on 30 and 31 October 2017.

The Forum was attended by approximately 250 participants, including 50 organisations from civil society, regional magistrates and officials from the relevant Departments that play an important role in the implementation of the Act. The government departments included the SAPS, the NPA, the DOJCD, the Departments of Health, Social Development and Women.

The purpose of the National Forum was 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.

The focus of the Forum was on the different phases of the criminal justice system in relation to a sexual offences case:  

  • reporting/investigation;
  • medico-legal/support services to the victims, and
  • court processes (prosecution and adjudication of sexual offences).

Stakeholders were requested to identify and propose innovative solutions to identified challenges that would not require additional funding, given current economic realities.

The outcomes of the Forum were as follows:

  • It was noted by stakeholders that the criminal justice system is complex, and involves many role-players and several interlinking stages and factors influencing the outcome of cases. Each role- player, either independently and/or collectively, will have a specific impact on how we, in the criminal justice system, respond to these matters.
  • The Forum resolved that continuous stakeholder cooperation is paramount in the management of sexual offences. Although performance management is essential, the crucial question is whether the current performance indicators used by government role-players are appropriate and relevant for sexual offences cases. In other words, are the different performance indicators used by the police, prosecutors and health services providers reflecting an accurate and trustworthy picture of the impact of the implementation of the Act; and are the strategic and operational plans of the different departments complementing each other and working towards common objectives?
  • Although there was some agreement that the current legislative framework is sufficient to provide for effective implementation of the Act, the following legislative provisions need to be evaluated and possibly  amended, inter alia:
  • the competency assessment of children to testify in court, particularly section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Act
  • extending the state’s right to appeal cases on matters of fact; currently the state may only appeal cases on a matter of law.
  • Stakeholders highlighted the absence of professional skills and sensitive attitudes towards victims on the part of some government officials tasked with managing sexual offences.  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. In addition, 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.
  • There is a need for adequate protocols and its related application among stakeholders at all levels.
  • The development of minimum standards to ensure improved service delivery by all stakeholders is needed. 
  • Stakeholder engagement at all fora (local, provincial and national) is needed to create a platform to discuss challenges and find solutions holistically.
  • The need for specialization within the criminal justice system when dealing with sexual offences was reiterated and encouraged by all stakeholders. 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.

The Steering Committee will have representatives from all relevant government departments as well as civil society. The National Action Plan aims to address and seek to eliminate the challenges to the implementation of the Act.

The recently released crime stats indicate that there were 49 660 reported sexual offences in SA in 2016/17. The reported figure belies the true extent of sexual offences, with the real number estimated to be much higher. Suffice to say that the prevalence of sexual offences in South Africa remains unacceptably high.

We owe it to the victims of sexual offences to make sure the Act works.

ENDS

Issued by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development

Enquiries: Mthunzi Mhaga
Spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services
0836418141
Mediaenquiries@justice.gov.za