The intermediary conveys messages from the court to the child‚ who then responds directly to the court. This is called a “closed circuit” trial. This way complainants do not have to come face-to-face with the accused on the stand.
The intermediary says‚ “They can see us‚ but we can’t see them.”
There is a television in the courtroom so that the accused‚ magistrate‚ attorneys‚ and police can watch complainants recount how they were sexually assaulted. The magistrate will demand every detail of the complainant’s story‚ says the intermediary.
When a juvenile is accused of sexual assault‚ only the family is allowed inside the courtroom. “They kick everybody out‚” says a complainant whose trial just got postponed for the third time.
Getting to the point where a rape survivor testifies can take months‚ even years. Postponements by South Africa’s magistrates are the norm in sexual offence cases.
“People appear in court just to get their trial postponed‚” says Toby van Schalkwyk‚ clerk of the Regional Criminal Court.
If it’s a one-time offence‚ there are fewer postponements for trial. With repeated sexual offences‚ convictions are harder to come by‚ explains one intermediary‚ who asks to remain anonymous.
“Chances of finding DNA evidence are slim when the offender is alleged to have raped someone [repeatedly] for weeks‚ months‚ or years‚” says the intermediary. The less evidence there is‚ the more likely the trial is to be postponed.
On the day of the trial‚ both the complainant and the accused are told to show up at 9am‚ but the trial typically won’t happen for another one to two hours. Once the trial begins‚ the prosecutor must convince the magistrate that the accused is guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Otherwise‚ the magistrate will acquit.
When a rapist is convicted‚ the minimum sentence is ten years for a first offence‚ 15 for a second‚ and 20 for a third. If the victim is a child‚ their abuser gets life imprisonment.