“The time has come for us to stand up and to speak out. Our silence will not protect us.”
So said Linda Fortuin, the director at Pollsmoor Correctional Centre, during a victim rights’ awareness session held at the facility’s recreational hall on Tuesday 22 September.
Addressing the 60 stakeholders who attended the event entitled “Justice that Heals”, Fortuin said that, as a nation, we needed each other, and as individuals, we needed to step forward and say “enough is enough”.
Among those invited to attend the event were representatives from the department of social development, Nicro, Hope Prison Ministry (HPM) at Pollsmoor, the Mitchell’s Plain Network Opposing Abuse as well as victims, offenders, social workers, psychologists and correctional officials.
Fortuin said the purpose of the event was to prioritise social cohesion among stakeholders in the fight against gender-based violence (GBV). She asked all of the role players in attendence to pledge their support to the national strategy focused on facilitating the recovery and healing of victims of crime. She said victims needed to know their rights.
Andries Esterhuizen, the deputy director of the department of correctional services (DCS), affirmed this, saying, from a regional perspective, the victim was central to the drive. He said several critical policies were already in place. Moreover, if a victim is dissatisfied with the decision of the parole board they may also write to the Correctional Supervision Parole Review Board (Parole Review Board).
Esterhuizen said there had been several cases where, when parole was considered, offenders had been sent back because it was felt that not enough had been done for the victim.
One of the initiatives aimed at achieving restorative justice for victims of crime is the Victim Offender Dialogue (VOD) programme which is being run by HPM.
VOD is a process in which the victim of a crime, or the surviving family members, and the offender who committed the offence meet face-to-face in a safe and secure setting. A play depicting such a victim-offender dialogue was presented by HPM during the event to show the ripple effect of violent crime on families.
Pastor Jonathan Clayton of HPM said a lot was often done to address victims’ experiences and their emotions. However, he said the question that we sometimes failed to ask was what victims wanted, and more specifically, what they wanted from offenders.
Clayton said, with offenders more often than not pleading not guilty in court only to be found guilty later, victims often did not have the opportunity to get truthful answers. A VOD dialogue, if done right, could give victims some truths. He says victims also wanted offenders to take full responsibility for the crime, they wanted the opportunity to tell their story – of how the act of violence affected their lives – and they wanted victims to show at least some kind of remorse.
He said some victims also wanted to take revenge and as a result, victims sometimes became the offenders because of having done so.
“We try and come alongside victims so that they don’t have to take revenge, but we rather look at a better way forward.”
But he said we also had to realise that some victims would never forgive.
“And we need to understand that. It’s a journey, it’s a process.”