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TBF argues against time limits for prosecuting sexual offences

- Lee-Anne Bruce

CALS will represent the Teddy Bear Foundation at the Constitutional Court on 14 November 2017 to argue there should be no prescription for sexual offences

The Teddy Bear Foundation, represented by the Centre for Applied Legal Studies at Wits University, will appear at the Constitutional Court on Tuesday to argue that there should be no time limit for  prosecuting any sexual offences.

On 22 – 23 May 2017, the Johannesburg High Court heard a case brought against the late Sidney Frankel, an accused sexual offender. The case challenged a section of the Criminal Procedure Act which gives the state a maximum of 20 years to prosecute a crime of sexual assault when there is no such limit for rape. The Teddy Bear Foundation entered the case as a ‘friend of the court’ to support the applicants and provide evidence on the nature of sexual abuse, delayed disclosure and the obligation on the state to protect children from abuse.

Acting Judge Hartford ruled on 19 June 2017 that the 20 year period in which to prosecute sexual offences is invalid and unconstitutional, saying: “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 applicants who alleged abuse by Mr Frankel, have now approached the Constitutional Court to confirm this judgment. The Centre for Applied Legal Studies, on behalf of the Teddy Bear Foundation, argues that the ruling should be upheld. The distinction in the law between rape and sexual assault is arbitrary. It fails to recognise that sexual assault may be just as harmful and traumatic as rape, and that generally victims are silenced and therefore take a long time to process what has happened and come forward. This may be especially true for children.

“Curtailing periods for prosecuting sexual offences does a disservice to society,” says Sheena Swemmer, attorney at the Centre for Applied Legal Studies. “Currently, the law fails to protect the most vulnerable groups. Instead, it should sanction these crimes and give victims access to justice no matter when they come forward to restore trust in the systems that are meant to protect them.”

“There should be no time limits on reporting for any victim of any sexual crime,” says Shaheda Omar, Clinical Director at the Teddy Bear Foundation. “We remain committed to ensuring the protection of all victims of sexual abuse, recognising the widespread and devastating effects it has on our society.”

The matter is set to be heard on 14 November 2017 at the Constitutional Court.

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