Evaluating the special sexual offences courts in Cape Town and Wynberg through professional perspectives
Blankenberg, Cheryl Marion
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This is an evaluative research study which was undertaken to establish whether the legal reforms, through the establishment of the Special Sexual Offences Courts, have been effective in reducing secondary traumatisation. In attempting to examine this crucial area, I focused specifically on the perceptions of professionals who are involved in child sexual abuse matters in the Special Sexual Offences Courts at Wynberg (Court G) and Cape Town (Court 32). The study employed qualitative research methodology, in the form of individual and group interviews, structured questionnaires and participant observation, to collect data. The respondents included magistrates, prosecutors, both victims support services coordinators within the court system, social workers who work with child abuse matters, Child Protection Unit investigating officers who investigate matters of this nature and attorneys who have defended offenders of child sexual abuse. The results indicate a marked disparity in physical appearance, location and an overall sense of child-friendliness between the two Special Sexual Offences Courts; a need for joint training of inter-disciplinary professionals, and a need for a more effective multidisciplinary team approach to the problem of child sexual abuse. The findings also indicate a need for regular contact between the professionals involved at the two Special Courts to ensure uniformity in terms of service provision, and a need for the restructuring of the job description of the co-ordinator. The findings reported and discussed, suggest that the legal reforms promulgated are but one aspect to the entire area of child protection. The overall success of these legal reforms depends upon the involvement, commitment and development of a common philosophy in child protection by, the medical, social, legal and police service systems. It is hoped that this report will act as a catalyst to urgently address the shortcomings which have been identified by the respondents, and that the recommendations reported will contribute to measures which will result in the development and implementation of effective child protective policies and practices.