A new judgment passed by the Johannesburg High Court on Monday, 19 June that sexual abuse cases older than twenty years should be valid is being welcomed by The Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR).
The judgement stipulates that Section 18 of the Criminal Procedure Act – which previously stated that a case of sexual abuse cannot be brought against a person if the alleged incident happened more than twenty years ago – is invalid and unconstitutional according to the High Court.
According to a CSVR (2009) study, there are numerous reasons to explain the delays in the disclosure or non-reporting of sexual abuse in South Africa. These include: "feelings of shame and self-blame; …reluctance towards or threats against reporting a family member or intimate partner; discriminatory police attitudes; and the secondary victimisation experienced by sexual assault victims in the criminal justice system."
Other reports also point to the fact that immediate disclosure after an abusive incident is the exception rather than the rule. In the majority of abuse cases, disclosures are often delayed, and it is usually a gradual process where the abuse may have taken place months or years before. Also, in many cases the disclosure of child sexual abuse is more typical when the victim reaches adulthood.
The combination of these factors means that the reporting of sexual abuse is often a complex and difficult process for many survivors. Consequently, not all survivors will report the crime immediately. CSVR therefore commends the High Court for its progressive ruling that, once confirmed by the Constitutional Court, will go a long way in improving access to justice for many survivors of sexual abuse.
CSVR further urges the Constitutional Court to uphold and confirm this ruling, so as to enable Parliament an opportunity to amend the law. We also congratulate the work of the civil society organisations; Lawyers for Human Rights, Teddy Bear Clinic and the Women's Legal Centre who acted as 'amicus curiae' (friends of the court) in the case that led to this progressive ruling.
For more information and interviews, contact:
Nonhlanhla Sibanda (Gender Specialist, CSVR)