Sex abuse law change to aid vic­tims

20-year limit on re­port­ing abuse ‘in­con­sis­tent with con­sti­tu­tion’

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - ILANIT CH­ER­NICK ilanit.ch­er­nick@inl.co.za @Lanc_02

IT’S A law amend­ment that could change the lives of thou­sands of sex­ual abuse vic­tims who, un­til now, were un­able to come for­ward be­cause of a 20-year time limit on re­port­ing sex­ual abuse.

Yes­ter­day, the high court in Joburg de­clared the pre­scrip­tion re­gard­ing sex­ual as­sault of­fences in the Crim­i­nal Pro­ce­dure Act (CPA) un­con­sti­tu­tional.

This means that the 20-year time limit on re­port­ing sex­ual abuse from the time it was com­mit­ted has been deemed to be in­con­sis­tent with South Africa’s con­sti­tu­tion.

The rul­ing comes af­ter eight peo­ple al­leg­ing to have been sex­u­ally vi­o­lated by the late bil­lion­aire Sid­ney Frankel over two decades ago sought an amend­ment to the CPA to write out the time lim­its for sur­vivors to lay cases against al­leged per­pe­tra­tors.

In the judg­ment, Judge Clare Hart­ford ruled that the pre­scrip­tion pe­ri­ods for sex­ual of­fences set out in the CPA were in­valid and there should no longer be time lim­its for prose­cut­ing these se­ri­ous crimes.

“The law must en­cour­age the pros­e­cu­tion of these ne­far­i­ous of­fences, which are a can­cer in South African so­ci­ety, and must sup­port vic­tims in com­ing for­ward, no mat­ter how late in the day.

“The law should not smother a vic­tim’s abil­ity to bring sex­ual of­fend­ers to book, as it presently does,” the judge said.

The court sus­pended the dec­la­ra­tion of in­va­lid­ity for 18 months to give Par­lia­ment time to amend the rel­e­vant leg­is­la­tion.

But first “it has to be con­firmed by the Con­sti­tu­tional Court be­fore it can come into ef­fect”, ex­plained Ian Le­vitt, the at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing the so-called “Frankel Eight”.

“It’s a mas­sive vic­tory for us and for all vic­tims of sex­ual abuse,” he said. “I feel ex­tremely happy with the judg­ment. I’m con­fi­dent the Con­sti­tu­tional Court will con­firm it. We are no longer faced with a law that pro­tects per­pe­tra­tors more than vic­tims.”

One of the Frankel Eight, Ni­cole Leven­stein, said this was a ma­jor vic­tory for them. “There’s a deep sense of re­lief, grat­i­tude and hu­mil­ity and just real ap­pre­ci­a­tion in the fact that there has been an awak­en­ing in our ju­di­cial sys­tem,” she said.

Leven­stein em­pha­sised that this was also a huge vic­tory for the chil­dren of South Africa, be­cause “we now know these per­pe­tra­tors will be brought to jus­tice”.

She added that this gave courage to other sex­ual abuse vic­tims.

“It’s say­ing to them that ‘you can come for­ward now be­cause there’s a process in place to al­low you to take the ac­tion you need in or­der to tell your story and be­gin a heal­ing process of some kind’.”

Vin­cen­tia Dlamini, op­er­a­tions di­rec­tor for Women and Men Against Child Abuse, echoed Le­vitt’s sen­ti­ments.

“It’s a vic­tory for vic­tims who were un­able to come for­ward be­cause of the 20-year limit. It’s em­pow­er­ing for vic­tims who were abused at age 10, and are now age 31 or 32; they will be able to come for­ward.

And they know that when they come for­ward, peo­ple will be­lieve them and take them se­ri­ously,” Dlamini added.

Sheena Swem­mer of the Cen­tre for Ap­plied Le­gal Stud­ies at Wits Uni­ver­sity said: “This is a sig­nif­i­cant step to­wards en­sur­ing that the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem is re­spon­sive to all vic­tims of sex­ual of­fence, no mat­ter when they come for­ward.”

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