Govt commits to combating sexual crimes

2013-08-06 16:03
Jeff Radebe (City Press)

Jeff Radebe (City Press)

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Pretoria - Twenty-two sexual offences courts will open this year after a task team found there was a clear need to resuscitate the dedicated courts to help combat rape, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe said on Tuesday.

A further 35 such courts would be set up within the next three years, he told reporters in Pretoria.

"We have seen a rise [in] sexual violence against women and children and we cannot remain unmoved as government, but we can take steps to ensure that all those perpetrators of these heinous crimes must be brought to book and this is one of the ways of dealing with it."

The minister said government had never abandoned the policy of running sexual offences courts. It buckled under logistical problems, including the refusal of magistrates to serve in the courts permanently and the lack of a dedicated budget.

Challenges

The first sexual offences court was established in Wynberg, in Cape Town in 1993. By late 2005, there were 74 such courts countrywide but currently only nine remain operational, according to figures provided by Radede.

"Even though these courts recorded considerable success, there were a number of challenges that led to their demise.

"The government never took the decision to close down the courts," he insisted, adding that there was the irony of the courts shutting down while internationally they had acquired best practice status.

The State was considering rotating magistrates and prosecutors who worked in sexual offences in response to complaints that the work was too traumatic in the long-term, Radebe said.

"We believe that the interactions that we have had, myself included, in meetings with the heads of courts... I believe that there is a broad understanding that all of us, including presiding officers, we have to be dedicated to this kind of work."

He said he was confident that "all personnel, including presiding officers and prosecutors, will be putting their shoulders into the wheel of driving back this scourge".

Task team

Radebe last year appointed a task team to investigate reviving and strengthening the courts, amid accusations by rights activists that government lacked the political will to fight sexual violence.

The task team's report "clearly determines that our current court system requires special courts to ensure an adequate response to the special needs of the sexual offence victims", he said.

The Democratic Alliance welcomed the announcement but criticised government for allowing the system to fall into disrepair.

"The fact that the government has now realised the error of its ways is at least to be commended, but the damage that has been done in the meantime is incalculable," DA MP Debbie Schafer said.

Read more on:    jeff radebe  |  child abuse  |  domestic violence

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