On 25 November 1996, International Day of No Violence Against Women, the Minister of Justice, Dr A M Omar, and the Deputy Minister of Justice, Dr M E Tshabalala-Msimang, launched a public campaign on preventing violence against women. The campaign was developed as a result of deep concern for the epidemic problem of violence against women in South Africa. It fits within the context of the commitments which the Department of Justice made in respect of implementing the Platform for Action which emanated from the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995:
As with many other issues, there are no reliable statistics on the extent of violence against women, but, as the 1995 Human Rights Watch Report on Violence Against Women in South Africa states:
Various estimates have been made which suggest that perhaps as many as one in three women are assaulted by their male partners. South Africa also has one of the highest rates of reportedd rape in the world and there has been a rise from 105,3 per 100 000 in 1994 to 119,5 per 100 000 in 1996. Police estimate that reported rapes represent less than 3% of the actual rapes occurring. Further, less than one-third of reported rapes reach the courts, and only one-half of those prosecuted result in convictions. Between July 1993 and June 1996 there were 24 304 rape prosecutions and 11 901 convictions.
The campaign comprised two distinct components; public awareness and strategic planning within the Department of Justice and other relavant Departments. On the strategic level the Department organised a number of meetings with relevant role players to devise practical plans for improving the treatment of women within the legal system. The people involved included magistrates, judges, prosecutors, members of the South African Law Commission (SALC) and other personnel from within the Department, as well as parliamentarians and staff working with the Departments of Welfare and Safety and Security, the South African Police Service (SAPS) and relevant NGOs.
Establishment of Task Team
One recommendation which emerged was the need to establish a high level intersectoral Task Team to develop uniform national guidelines for all role-players handling rape and other sexual offence cases. The Department of Justice convened such a team which comprised personnel from the SAPS, the Departments of Health, Welfare and Correctional Services, representatives from different aspects of justice - prosecutors, magistrates and appellate courts - and an NGO representative from the National Network on Violence Against Women.
The Task Team met over a number of months with each Department being responsible for the drafting of its own guidelines, but all members of the Team had the opportunity to comment and assess the manner in which the different guidelines worked together. The aim was to compile a set of guidelines which would facilitate the development of an integrated and holistic approach across the government and the NGO sector to deal with these offences.
Structure of Guidelines
Complete sets of the guidelines will be forwarded to central offices of relevant Departments in the provinces and to other places where they are accessible to people working in the field of sexual violence. At ground level departmental personnel will have available the guidelines which apply to their daily work (eg., police stations will have the police guidelines, health clinics will have the health guidelines).
The guidelines also contain an information brochure for victims which sets out in simple language the basic steps involved in the legal process. It is anticipated that victims will obtain additional information on the process and the resources available to them in their area from material prepared locally.
Future of the Guidelines
The present document is a first attempt at developing a cohesive framework for dealing with sexual offences. It must now be fully tested by the people who work in this area. The Department of Justice hopes that the guidelines will serve two main linked purposes:
If these goals are achieved the result should also be an increased conviction rate and appropriate decisions being taken on bail and sentences.
These guidelines are part of a process. As we all learn from our new approach to this work, they will need to be revised and reviewed.
Thank you to the members of the Task Team for your dedication and commitment. Good wishes to those of you who will rely on them to assist with your work.
Dr M E Tshabalala-Msimang
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN IS A CRIME!