By Kotie Geldenhuys
Photos provided by the NPA
“Ever since the incident, I’ve never felt the same and my life is not normal. I just became so down and not participated in conversations with my surroundings. The things you did to me, I blame myself, I blame God but the truth is it is all your fault. You may be going to jail but know that you have broken me. I didn’t live like a normal teenager and part of me has been taken away. You took away my precious gift and sometimes I just ask myself if I will ever live a normal life because what you did to me, really affected me.
I hardly sleep at night because sometimes I have dreams of you raping me and it is very heart-breaking that I will never be able to be proud of myself because I feel like I am nothing. You really broke my heart and now I can’t even trust anyone and trust is very important but you took that away from me. You took away my happiness and I can be happy now but later I will get flashbacks that will never go away. I will be having them until the end of my life. I wish that you could put yourself in my shoes and feel the sadness in me right now. Malume you have broken me deeply and I can’t put everything that I am feeling into writing but my heart is bleeding of anger, sadness and brokenness. I trusted you and treated you like my father. When I cry at night I ask myself what did I ever do for you to come and rape me. I may not be happy as I used to be before but I want you to ask yourself every night why is it that you raped your own niece? Why did you break your niece’s heart? I wanted you to treat me like a daughter but didn’t.”
This quotation comes from a letter written by the 16-year-old victim of the musician Sipho “Brickz” Ndlovu after she made her statement to court preparation officers on 17 July 2017. The accused raped the girl in 2013 when she was 13 years old. After the incident the victim was bleeding and in severe pain. Ndlovu told her to take a bath after the rape and threatened to kill her if she told anyone. The girl was unaware that she had been infected with a sexually transmitted disease. She did not testify in court due to the amount of media attention in the case. On 17 October 2017, Ndlovu was sentenced to 15 years’ incarceration (www.thenewage.co.za/why-did-you-rape-your-own-niece-read-full-letter-from-victim-to-brickz and www.timeslive.co.za/tshisa-live/tshisa-live/2017-10-17-brickz-sentenced-to-15-years-in-jail-for-raping-a-teenage-relative). In cases like these, court preparation and victim impact statements especially play an important role.
The active participation of victims and witnesses in criminal proceedings is of utmost importance to ensure successful investigations, prosecution and convictions. In order to obtain a conviction for a crime that has been committed and to ensure that justice is served, evidence, whether in the form of a witness testifying or other physical evidence, is required. However, people have limited knowledge about the Criminal Justice System (CJS) and their knowledge is often based on what they have seen on the television or in the movies. However, court systems abroad are different from the South African court system where a jury, for example, is not used.
For people who have never been to court, the formal set-up can be intimidating. Testifying in court, where everything is strange, in front of strangers can be very traumatic. People, including children, find it difficult to talk about traumatic experiences as they may experience the trauma all over again. When a victim is cross-examined by the defence, s/he may experience further trauma as cross-examination is used as a tool to confuse a victim/witness. Confrontation and cross-examination create huge difficulties for child victims. Many victims of crime, especially victims of sexual offences and child witnesses, are not necessarily anxious about the case itself, but rather about facing the accused in the court environment as well as the unknown territory that awaits them since they do not have a clear understanding of the functioning of the CJS. The result is that victims often withdraw the charge or fall apart on the witness stand.
With the high prevalence of sexual offences committed against children in South Africa, the quality and accuracy of a child's testimony are often pivotal to whether cases are prosecuted, and whether justice is done. The way in which judicial officers respond to abused children is very important. They must deal with the child victim in a sensitive manner and with respect. Going to court is a stressful experience for anyone, and even more so for children, therefore children must receive specialist services in courts. Although most cases involving children are held in camera or through a court intermediary, it is important for the child victim/witness and his/her parents/caregiver to know what happens in a court, what to expect and to be properly prepared for the court. If this process is neglected, secondary abuse of the already traumatised child can occur.
The aim of court preparation
Too often cases fall through because of inadequate preparation, resulting in the accused being set free, with the potential to re-offend. Therefore, court preparation programmes are important to assist victims to prepare to give consistent, coherent and accurate testimony in court. It is important to note that court preparation is not about telling or coaching victims/witnesses what to say.