Three years ago in 2009 a young shy girl from a semi-rural area outside of urban Cape Town arrived at the Cape Town Regional Court. She arrived with her mother, aunt and little sister – her name was Joanne*. She was a timid nine-year-old who had become a victim of a Child Sexual Offence. It was alleged at that stage that her step-father had raped her repeatedly over a two-year period.
When she arrived at court, she was greeted by the RAPCAN Court Support Workers who welcomed her and her family and answered their immediate concerns and questions in an attempt to alleviate any of their fears or worries. The court supporter did this by explaining to them what the court process would be like for the day. The court support worker then offered some refreshements to Joanne, as she had indicated that she was very hungry, as well as the rest of the family. During further court preparation and assessment with RAPCAN staff, it was found that Joanne came from a low-income household where the step-father (the alleged perpetrator) was the only breadwinner. They lived in a one-bedroom house which was situated on the farm where the stepfather was employed. Joanne had been struggling to concentrate at school, had nightmares and often wet the bed due to the traumatic experiences she had been through.
A councillor with the puppets used to talk to the children about their experiences
After various games, relationship building techniques, puppetry and play therapy techniques, Joanne opened up. She shared that she did not say anything to her mom about what her stepfather was doing because he threatened to throw the family out of “his house” if she told any one of his alleged rape. She continued to share that she only spoke up when she had seen him start to touch her little sister “like that” (referring to sexually inappropriate touches). She realised that her younger sister was now also at risk from their step-father and it would be just a matter of time before he raped her as well.
Joanne was referred to a counsellor by RAPCAN staff and the court case was provisionally withdrawn so that further evidence on the case could be gathered. She returned to court in 2011 and appeared stronger and more confident. After her court preparation session with RAPCAN, she was taken into the Camera Room (a separate room attached to the court via a CCTV camera system pictured above) where she testified successfully. During the debriefing session with the RAPCAN court support worker, Joanne shared how relieved she was to have completed her story in court and her fears that the magistrate and other people (referring to the defence attorney) may not believe her. In January 2012, Joanne’s step-father was found guilty of rape and was sentenced to life imprisonment.
RAPCAN staff later did a telephone follow-up with Joanne and spoke to her and her mother who reported that they are doing well. Her mother had sourced employment at the same farm where they resided, and they had been allowed to continue staying on the premises, Joanne had started her grade 8 year at a school in the nearest town and was moving on with her life.
* Joanne is an alias and not her true identity to protect the identity of the child.