Table of contents
– Definition of Secondary Victimisation
– Secondary Victimisation in the court process
– Discussion of article
– Victims rights in terms of victim impact statements
And the legal provision made for them in South Africa
Definition of Secondary victimisation”
Secondary victimisation can be defined as the insensitive, victim-blaming attitudes, behaviours and practices held by institutions and community service providers resulting in additional trauma for an already traumatised victim of crime, especially for those who are victims of a sexual crime such as rape or molestation. (http://rapecrisis.org.za/).
Secondary victimisation in the court process
Reporting a crime and going through the criminal justice process is usually where secondary victimisation starts when reporting a sexual offence to the police, the victim is often left feeling exposed and somewhat embarrassed about what happened. The victim is bombarded with many questions and paper work and they receive very little emotional support. The victim may feel that he/she has to relive the crime. This can be extremely overwhelming to the victim and intensifies the trauma.
In many cases the victim is discouraged by family members to even report the crime, let alone lay charges (UNISA Study Guide for CMY3705, p71) The victim may feel that he/she has little support and is left feeling isolated and alone. Getting the case to court is a lengthy, sluggish and disorganised process and a very frustrating one at that. The victim usually wants to get the whole process over and done with as soon as possible so that he/she can come to terms with the traumatic event and move on with their lives. When the case eventually does end up in court the victim may feel overwhelmed by the strange and unknown environment and by the fact that he/she does not have extensive knowledge of the court process; it is all very unfamiliar and very daunting.
Quite often the victim is not told why he/she is being asked certain questions and is not kept updated on the progress of the investigation or the trial. All of these factors intensify the trauma that the victim is experiencing. (UNISA Study Guide for CMY3705, p71)
A large contributing factor to the fact that certain institutions may cause secondary victimisation is the lack of knowledge or the holding of certain beliefs pertaining to rape or sexual crimes. Some people may accept certain types of myths and stereotypes about rape which leads them to treating the victim insensitively. (http://rapecrisis.org.za/).
Women’s Month: One in Nine Campaign:
The 1 in 9 campaign started out focusing on the one woman in nine who reports being raped, but has moved on to try also include the other eight survivors, says Kwezilomso Ndazayo. Anyone who followed the Jacob Zuma rape trial in 2006 soon became familiar with the sight of groups of women outside the courtroom, wearing purple t-shirts and bearing placards calling for justice.
“The campaign was born there, because the woman who had laid the charge was one of our clients and we supported her,” explains Kwezilomso Ndazayo, project officer for the campaign. “The research shows that only one woman in nine will take a rape case to the criminal justice system – we realized that those who dared to speak out needed our support.”
For many women, the cost of seeing a rape case through the criminal justice system is just too high – particularly as conviction rates are so low. “Many women say that the court process makes it feel as if they are being raped again. This secondary victimization often begins from the minute they set foot in a police station or hospital, particularly if they are from a marginalized group such as lesbians or poor working class women. The conviction rate is so appalling that many survivors see no point in subjecting themselves to a process that can take five years, if they have no faith in getting a conviction.”
Part of the problem is the “innocent victim” discourse often played out in the media, in which any woman who is a lesbian, HIV positive, who drinks alcohol or has ever engaged in consensual sex is seen as blameworthy and not deserving of respect and compassion, not to mention justice. “For example, there has been a lot of research looking at how violence against women puts them at risk of contracting HIV. Now we are looking at it from another angle: how does being HIV positive put women at risk of violence?”
Kwezilomso says the Zuma case raised numerous issues about HIV, sexuality and culture and helped members of the campaign to see that not only should they continue but that they needed to broaden their approach. “Just because the other eight women don’t follow the justice system route, it doesn’t mean they are not speaking out in other ways.”
In a society that has normalized the abnormal and which appears complacent about the extraordinarily high level of violence against women and children, the members of the campaign are determined to keep speaking out. “Its important that we having voices that point out that this is not an acceptable state for women to be living in. It also helps survivors by affirming that this is not normal. At the same time we are aware of the consequences of women speaking truth to power and are careful not to endanger members of the campaign.”
One in Nine is a member-based campaign that does advocacy in a variety of ways, from running Young Women’s Leadership programmes across the provinces, to courses with the CDP on Art as Advocacy where women create their own campaign materials such as t-shirts and banners. “We are currently compiling a guide written for rape survivors by survivors. This is important, as most other guides are written by academics or activists, but only survivors who have themselves have been through the system can tell them what to expect.”
Kwezilomso also points out that while the criminal justice system is the most obvious symbol of the failure to protect women, there are many other sites of power that have an impact on women’s lives, ranging from Parliament to the health system to the police force. “The state needs to be held accountable for issues like the backlog in the justice system, and we encourage active citizenship to ensure that duty bearers do what they are supposed to do. But the entire system is stacked against women. “Even if there was a different government in office, the same system would remain. The state is a tool of control, to put people in their place and shut them up. The bigger question is how we transform society, from the bottom right up to the highest office in the land.”
The 16 Days of Activism campaign has come in for a lot of criticism, and some activists believe it has been hijacked by government and does little but provide public relations opportunities for ministers who promptly forget about the issues come January.
“Perhaps as a sector we need to spend more time assessing the impact of the 16 Days, but I wouldn’t call for it to be scrapped entirely. Of course there are probably too many fancy dinners, but each platform provides us an opportunity to engage and try to create positive change. And if the nature of some of these events is problematic, then we should use the opportunity to shine a light on that. The good thing about 16 Days is that it gets the issues out into the open and allows people a space to start talking about them.”
Despite the activism of many campaigners, rates of violence against women and children in South Africa continue to rise. While we have progressive legislation and a one of the best Constitutions in the world, it seems our society is out of step with the values it professes to hold.
Is there a future for these campaigns? “Obviously this is not going to change overnight, and maybe in 50 years time South Africa will be a better place for women and children. But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying. It is very important that we continue to speak and be heard and ensure that South Africans understand this is not the kind of society they want to live in.”
Discussion of the article
This article provides a perfect example of why secondary victimisation takes place in court. As mentioned, the criminal justice system often fails rape victims due to the low conviction rate and the insensitive manner in which the victims are treated. The result is that many victims are discouraged to report rape cases due to the fact that they feel they are not being heard and that they are being treated with little dignity and respect. If this was not the case there would most probably be an increase in reports leading to a higher conviction rate.
The rights of victims are being abused and undermined by the criminal justice system and it is left up to private organisations and NGO’s to take care of these victims. It is a sad state of affairs and the responsibility of protecting the rights of victims should be shifted back to the criminal justice system. That is how it should have been from day one!
From the discussion above it is obvious that drastic measures need to be taken in order to improve the criminal justice system to such an extent that secondary victimisation is cut down to a minimum.
Victims of sexual crimes or any crime for that matter should have no doubt in their minds that the criminal justice system is in place in order to assist them in their times of need and should feel safe and accepted while going through the process of the criminal justice system.
In my opinion this process will start as soon as there is a general change in the outlook and point of view that the members of these institutions hold.
It has been debated whether or not a victim of crime should participate in the criminal prosecution process and if so to what extent they are allowed to participate. In South Africa, legal provision was made for victim impact statements due to the fact that for even the most trained professional, it is impossible to fully comprehend what the victim might be experiencing and the amount of suffering that the victim has to endure. This was pointed out by the South African Law Commission (2002:68). (UNISA Study Guide for CMY3705, p.77)
“A victim impact statement is a written or oral statement made as part of the judicial legal process, which allows a victim of crime the opportunity to speak during the sentencing of their attacker or at subsequent parole hearings. In some instances videotaped statements are permitted.”
A victim impact statement is document that is written by the victim explaining in their own words what they experienced during the time that the crime was being committed against them. A victim in this case also refers to the indirect victims such as close family members of the victim or an eye witness.
Victims’ rights in terms of impact statements and the legal provision for them in South Africa
Previously, the main objective of any criminal justice system was to determine whether a suspect of a crime was guilty or not and more often than not the constitutional rights of victims were overlooked during this process. Gradually this began to change and the following rights were awarded to South Africa and are fully covered in the Constitution of The Republic of South Africa Act 1008 of 1996 in chapter two:
Right to protection from harm
The right to be notified of court proceedings
The right to be notified about bail
The right to be informed of parole hearings
The right to the prompt return of property
Along with these rights, victims were also granted the right to take part in the criminal prosecution process by providing their own account of their experiences in the form of a victim impact statement. Legal provision was made for victim impact statements when the South African Law Commission recommended the inclusion of a clause on victim impact statements in either oral or written form in the Sentence Framework Bill with the certain reservations:
A victim impact statement can be seen as a way to empower victims and give them a sense of purpose during the criminal prosecution process. It allows them to put into word exactly what they are experiencing on many levels. It is a very important part of the prosecution process as it may determine whether or not the accused will be sentenced as well as the length of the sentence.
In my personal opinion I feel that a victim impact statement is the most crucial oart of the prosecution process.
http://www.shukumisa.org.za/index.php/2011/08/womens-month-one-in-ninecampaign/ UNISA Study Guide for CMY3705, p71
UNISA Study Guide for CMY3705, p.77
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