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Address by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development,
the Hon JH Jeffery, MP, at the Round Table Discussion on National Action in Support of Victims of Gender-Based and Sexual Violence in South Africa,
held at the Royal Netherlands Embassy, Nieuw Muckleneuk, 1 March 2017

Good morning, and thank you to the Royal Netherlands Embassy and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime for making this event possible.
As you know, South Africa has implemented numerous legislative and policy interventions to combat gender-based and sexual violence.

From the Domestic Violence Act, to other laws dealing with sexual offences; minimum sentencing; trafficking; domestic violence and harassment to policy initiatives such as the establishment of the Sexual Offences and Community Affairs Unit in the NPA, the establishment of Thuthuzela Care Centres and Sexual Offences Courts, the fight against gender-based and sexual violence has remained high on Government’s agenda.

Other measures have included the establishment of an Inter-Ministerial Committee on violence against women to investigate the root causes of violence against women and to develop national plans to prevent and respond to violence against women in a coordinated manner.

We have a 24-hour Gender-Based Violence Command Centre, dedicated at providing support and counselling to victims of gender based violence.

We have 24-hour Khuseleka One Stop Centres which provide services to victims of violence, such as trauma counselling and psychosocial support, health care, police services, legal assistance and shelter services.

We have SAPS’ Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Units.   

Government, in conjunction with the NPA, has been running the Ndabezitha Project which seeks to train traditional leaders, prosecutors and court clerks on domestic violence matters in rural areas.

We have been running numerous awareness campaigns aimed at sensitising communities about domestic violence services. In the quest to eradicate violence against women and children, Government rolled out National Dialogues on Violence against Women and Children around the country, talking to women and men from all spheres of life.

So we have progressive laws, policies, programmes and interventions.

All of us here today - government, civil society, SAPS, the NPA, the CGE -  are doing what we can to put a stop to bender-based and sexual violence.

But yet it still remains unacceptably high. We need to ask why this is so.

We know that we can’t attribute the causes to a single factor.

A recent CSVR study states that it is estimated that between 20% and  30%  of  children  in  South  Africa  grow  up  without  fathers. This negatively affects children, especially boy children,  some  of  whom  become  violent  and  aggressive  later  in  life. 

Gender-based violence contains a socio-economic aspect as well. The study confirms that lack of economic independence among women is a key driver of GBV. It is hard for  women  who  are  economically  dependent  on  their  male  partners  to   leave  such  abusive  relationships.  There is a strong link between poverty and GBV. Alcohol and substance abuse plays a role, as does the possession of firearms. Often the perpetrator lives in the same house as the victim.

And what about the criminal justice system? Courts are, by their nature, not comforting places. Many people are not familiar with how courts work.  The thought of going to court evokes feelings of fear and anxiety. For victims of sexual offences the risk of possible secondary trauma is real.

Gender-based violence is as an international issue. In a 2014 EU-wide survey, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights interviewed with 42,000 women across the 28 Member States of the European Union. Worryingly, the report states that:
“What emerges is a picture of extensive abuse that affects many women’s lives, but is systematically under-reported to the authorities. For example, one in 10 women has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 15, and one in 20 has been raped.
Yet, as an illustration, only 14 % of women reported their most serious incident of intimate partner violence to the police, and 13 % reported their most serious incident of non-partner violence to the police.”

In South Africa, that data tells us that in 2015/16, some 51,895 sexual offences were recorded. That’s an average of 142.2 per day.  The sexual offences rate decreased from 99 out of 100 000 in 2014/15 to 94.3 in 2015/16.

While the decrease looks promising some role-players, such as the Institute for Security Studies, has suggested that the decrease may be due to fewer people reporting sexual offences.

Under-reporting remains a problem: UN data tells us that in the majority of countries with available data, less than 40% of the women who experience violence seek help of any sort.

Among women who do, most look to family and friends and very few look to formal institutions and mechanisms, such as police and health services. Less than 10% of those women seeking help after having experienced violence sought help by appealing to the police.

The other issue is the delivery of services to victims.

As you know, a major component of our fight against sexual violence is the Thuthuzela Care Centers (TCCs), which embody a coordinated approach in the way we effectively manage sexual offences. The TCC-model is integrated approach to rape care, aimed at providing comfort, restoring dignity and ensuring justice for victims of sexual violence. The success of the TCCs is based upon effective and efficient stakeholder cooperation. 

The TCC-model is specifically focussed on a victim-friendly and court directed approach with prosecutor-guided investigations. The ultimate goal is to minimise secondary victimization, reduce the cycle period of cases and increase conviction rates.

Similar centres exist in other countries.  I was most interested to read about the similarities between our Thuthuzelas and the 12 – there will be 16 next year - Sexual Violence Centres across the Netherlands.  These centres also employ doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers and forensic experts from the police. So victims get the medical and psychological services needed and forensic evidence is also collected.

Today’s roundtable discussion is a precursor to a National Dialogue on Gender-Based Violence and Sexual Offences.  What is it that we are hoping to achieve with the National Dialogue?

The most pertinent question is why are our laws and policies not working as effectively as they should? What can we do to improve our current practices?

A best practice model should contain certain elements such as a care conducive environment, physical and mental health interventions, forensic examination and evidence collection, specialist referral and follow-up, quality and monitoring. How can we strengthen these elements?  All these support services also need to be considered in the context of a limited budget.

A further important question relates to the vital role played by civil society.

Civil society is government’s most important partner, as civil society is often the first port of call for people who need help. How do we strengthen civil society and how do we increase civil society’s capacity to assist in the fight against gender-based and sexual violence?

What other issues are affecting civil society in the delivery of services to victims of violence?

For example, last year, Lisa Vetten, writing for the ISS, said that critical services to rape victims rely on international donor funding and that donor funding cuts thus have a negative impact on the critical services that non-governmental organisations offer to rape victims in the areas that fall outside certain designated areas. She asks: “Why are services to rape victims dependent on international donor funding, and thus vulnerable to donor policy trends and changes? What do we do to ensure that NGOs are not left vulnerable to funding cuts and changes in this way?”

These are indeed questions we must ask.

Similarly how do ensure closer collaboration with NGOs? What practical, on-the-ground, measures need to be taken to ensure better access to basic services and mechanisms for effective prevention as well as efficient support to victims and survivors?

How do we strengthen our responses? For example, we have the Rapid Response Team, which is part of our National Task Team on LGBTI issues.

The aim of the RRT is to urgently attend to pending and reported cases on hate crimes perpetrated against LGBTI persons.  A list of pending cases was received from civil society organisations for fast tracking.  The RRT comprises the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, the National Prosecuting Authority, the South African Police Service and nominated representatives from civil society organisations. Department of Health has also been co-opted into the RRT.

The RTT is working well and there may also be useful aspects of the RTT that the National Dialogue could consider.

There are wide-ranging facets to finding solutions to gender-based and sexual violence. It entails gender equality, law and justice, the economy, development and social inclusion, culture, education and media; and health.

And find solutions, we must.

As Kofi Annan remarked: “Violence against women is perhaps the most shameful human rights violation, and it is perhaps the most pervasive. It knows no boundaries of geography, culture or wealth. As long as it continues, we cannot claim to be making real progress towards equality, development and peace.”

I wish you all the best in your deliberations today and also in preparation for the National Dialogue. You can be assured our Government’s support.

Thank you.