In the two months I have worked at Lawyers against Abuse (LvA) I have experienced first-hand the barriers to justice for victims and survivors of gender-based violence. In attempts to engage with government authorities on behalf of our clients, I have been yelled at, verbally harassed and simply ignored. The re-traumatization of individuals seeking help is real and sometimes all attempts to alleviate the problem feel futile. But in my short time at LvA I have also met individuals whose perseverance and sincere desire for justice has resulted in real change. I would like to share with you, our supporters, a case that demonstrates the strength of one such individual.
When I first met Maddy, with her gentle smile and dainty hat, I could not have guessed the number of obstacles she had encountered in her pursuit of justice. A year before our meeting, her mentally-disabled teenage grandson had been raped by an older woman, an incident he described to Maddy as “being forced to make a baby.” Outraged, Maddy approached the police who turned her away despite their duty to open a case and ensure immediate medical and DNA testing. When finally in court, the Magistrate told Maddy that the case was “rubbish” and repeatedly made clear his views that the accused woman could not be guilty of such a crime. Maddy lodged a formal complaint and successfully requested a new Magistrate. Nevertheless, the new Magistrate found the woman not guilty and the State Prosecutor chose not to appeal. A lack of appreciation for the boy’s mental disability and stigma against male victims of rape most likely riddled the remainder of the proceedings.
Where most would have given up, Maddy became even more determined. She approached LvA insisting on an appeal and, on her own initiative, arranged a meeting with the Chief Prosecutor. Because of Maddy’s perseverance, LvA is now working together with the Prosecutor’s Office to bring an appeal in this case. The Chief Prosecutor not only listened to Maddy’s concerns but warmly welcomed assistance from LvA, demonstrating her genuine desire to see justice done. Public officials like her are a further reminder that we are moving in the right direction.
This case will be the first time LvA has been invited to assist the State in a criminal proceeding. It will serve as a unique opportunity for us to support State officials in a case of gender-based violence and develop a relationship that will in future assist other victims. This also represents an important step in realizing LvA’s vision of an integrated approach to gender-based violence, one in which prosecutors, police, hospitals and community-based organizations work together in supporting victims and survivors of violence. Most importantly, by working together in this case, Maddy’s desire for justice can finally be realized.
[Please note that the names in this piece have been changed to protect our client’s identity.]
To our valued donors
Firstly, thank you so much for your continued support for our cause. As you know, Lawyers against Abuse (LvA) is a non-profit organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa, which provides urgent legal services to victims and survivors of gender-based violence. The vast majority of our cases to date have involved young women, who have not only experienced some form of abuse, but have been further victimized when they attempted to report this abuse to authorities. Here, we would like to share one of our successes from the past few weeks with you.
This case involves a 12-year-old girl whose teacher threatened her at knifepoint, before kidnapping, drugging and raping her. In February, LvA – along with its partner organisations – acted on her behalf by lodging a complaint of gross misconduct against this teacher with the Gauteng Department of Education.
Though he was initially found not guilty at an internal disciplinary hearing, an appeal against this decision was referred to the MEC in the Department. This time, the appeal was upheld and the teacher was found guilty of all charges against him, which should result in a dismissal from his teaching post.
Please know that this positive outcome would not have been possible without your support. All donations received contribute towards LvA’s role in cases such as these, where we can provide expert legal advice and assistance. LvA is proud to be part of a group of organisations who are working to make a no-tolerance approach to sexual violence in South African schools a reality.
I have been honored to volunteer with Lawyers Against Abuse, LvA, for the last 6 months, and I want to share one of our successes from the last few weeks.
This case involves a 12 year old girl who was kidnapped and raped at knife point by her teacher. He threatened to kill her if she told anyone. When she bravely spoke up, the school tried to silence her with bribes and threats. Her loving family turned to the police. The police refused to investigate. Desperate to protect their traumatized daughter, her parents reached out to LvA through our partner organizations for help.
We succeeded in getting her placed in a different school, the teacher on suspension, and the case reopened. When I came onto the case, the police had changed the investigating officer for the 3rd time, and there was evidence that false statements had been created, in which the girl recants and begs forgiveness from the teacher. How convenient would that be for an overworked and unscrupulous police officer- less forms to be filled out, another case off their desk?
But the routine systemic injustices involved in cases of child sexual abuse in South Africa are not what I want to focus on here. Instead I want to share with you, our supporters, the resilience and strength of this young girl. I met with her and her loving family in their one room home in a township outside of Johannesburg, with a reasercher and translator from a partner organization. The father works day and night shifts at the recycling center, and yet they still scrape by to meet basic needs. We had to tell them that their daughter would need to make a new statement to the police. She immediately started to cry and shake- tensing every muscle- reliving the horror and pain of the assault. You see, this is one of the most terrible effects of sexual violence. Haunting survivors when they try seek justice and help.
But here is where LvA’s model empowers and innovates. We worked with her and her family, playing games while teaching her coping skills to manage her trauma symptoms so that she could speak her truth. It was quite fun actually, practicing grounding and deep breathing while she defeats us in round after round of Go Fish!
By the time we left, she was smiling with relief. She gave a clear statement the next day- advocating for herself that she never recanted, that she wants justice. And you know the best part? At the end of the ordeal she said, “Daddy, I was fine. I was STRONG!”
- Jessica Searle is currently volunteering with Lawyers Against Abuse as a Project Manager. She will be returning to the US to continue her studies in international policy and clinical social work at Columbia University in January.
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