TBZ Victim Support Room best so far

THABAZIMBI – “The Victim Support Room (VSR) at Thabazimbi Police Station is the best I have seen up to date,” wrote Steve Heath, known for his fight against child rape and sexual abuse, on his blog after visiting Thabazimbi in July 2011.

Die Kwêvoël met with Steve when his path crossed those of Thabazimbi community and talked to him about his mission in life. According to Steve, he has been dedicating his life for the past five and half years to research and finding a solution to stopping the rape and sexual abuse of children in South Africa.

The research is focused on children between the ages of birth and 12 years of age and all information in this ‘Proposal for a Solution to Stopping the Rape of Children’ pertains to children in this age group.

There is currently no properly managed support structure on a national basis for victims of child rape and domestic violence and this includes both for themselves as victims, as well as mothers and the families, particularly in instances where a husband or father is arrested and imprisoned for having committed the crime on either his own biological child, step child or other family members, said Steve.

According to Steve, mothers are being pressurised by family members not to report instances of child rape and sexual abuse of their children in instances where the perpetrator in terms of section 54 of the Sexual Offences Act 32 of 2007 – the compulsory reporting of cases of child rape.

In spite of the fact that a victim, according to the Act, must not be removed from her or his place of residency, courts are still ordering that a child rape victim must be place in “places of safety”, while the suspect or rapist is released on bail and allowed to continue with his life as normal providing him with the opportunity to intimidate the victim and her or his family into not co-operating with the authorities, hence the totally unacceptable national average conviction rate of 4-6% in South Africa.

The problems currently being experienced by mothers wanting to report the rape and sexual abuse of their children is the fact that, in the majority of cases, the child has to be taken to a police station, this being, in the majority of cases, the first point of entry into the ‘system’. Here the mother and child must wait amongst other complainants and be subjected to secondary trauma and humiliation in the form of a ‘male’ police officer (a member of the same sex who has just destroyed the child’s life and subjected her/him to pain and suffering) taking her/his statement. Steve’s discussions with police officials appointed to take these statements have revealed that in almost every instance the policeman or woman are sadly lacking the qualifications and experience needed to extract the necessary and vital information from the child in order to secure an arrest and successful conviction of the culprit. Secondly, the child is taken from the police station to a hospital for the necessary J88 examination form to be completed by a doctor. Social workers in various parts of South Africa have confirmed that victims are usually transported to hospitals by means of a police van/vehicle and this in itself is a form of secondary trauma which results in the child, on being placed in the police vehicle, believing that she or he is the guilty party, hence “secondary trauma”.

Steve’s solution is a “One-Stop-Shop” facility which would provide victims of child rape, as well as victims of domestic violence, with a support structure which could incorporate four of the factors previously mentioned and would provide these services all under one roof.

The Thuthuzela Care Centres is the best kept secret in South Africa, according to Steve. The word Thuthuzela being a Xhosa word meaning “Comfort”, and was the brain child of SOCA (The Sexual Offences and Community Affairs Unit) which is a sub-unit of the NPA (National Prosecuting Authority).

Steve believe the ‘Thuthuzela Care Centres’ should be established countrywide. His research has indicated that in order to encourage mothers to report the rape and sexual abuse of their children it is essential that Thuthuzela Care Centre’s, firstly, be established at all provincial and regional hospitals, and secondly, provide ‘On-site’ personnel and services at all.

Additional support needed but not necessarily required to be on site but needs to be dedicated to the support of the centre, is in the form of: A Regional Court Senior Prosecutor to train the police in the art of statement taking and evidence gathering as well as being available to assist the investigating officer (FCS unit) in the investigation of the case and to keep the victim up to date with regard to the progress of the case and a psychologist to provide additional support to the social workers.

For more on the proposal and information about the Buddy and Me campaign, go to www.buddyandme.co.za or e-mail steve@buddyandme.co.za. Steve Heath can be contacted on his mobile at 082 254 9129. Warrant Officer Corra Myburgh at Thabazimbi’s VSR can be contacted on 014 777 4820 or 014 777 4840.