Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Programme
In TVEP’s eleven-year history, the organisation has assisted over 12,000 survivors of violence through their 24/7 trauma centres in the Thulamela region of Limpopo province, South Africa.
These trauma centres provide survivors of sexual and domestic violence with a one-stop-shop. Services include legal assistance with pressing charges, rape and care kits, counselling, transport assistance to follow-up hospital and counselling visits, home visits, and more. Among other projects, TVEP also has a dedicated Access to Justice programme. Their legal officers put pressure on the police, the courts and other players, to ensure that vulnerable and often marginalised people are able to access legal justice in the wake of traumatic physical and sexual abuse.
Sonke Gender Justice partners with TVEP on the Access to Justice programme, and we paid them a visit in Thohoyandou, Limpopo at the beginning of March 2012.
Helen Alexander, manager of Communications and Strategic Information unit, and Mbuyiselo Botha, Sonke’s Media and Government Liaison conducted a Media Advocacy workshop with TVEP staff and members of a local victim empowerment network. Londi Gamedze, editor and social media coordinator went to document some of their recent cases.
Media Advocacy Training
The 20 participants from local victim empowerment organisations, including TVEP, underwent a two-day media advocacy workshop, honing their skills to interact with the media – print and radio in particular. Helen and Mbuyiselo have offered this workshop a number of times, and they continue to do Sonke proud.
Participants enacted role plays of problems they identify in their communities, to begin thinking about what kind of people are affected by these problems, how they are affected and how the situation can be changed, and ultimately, how they can harness the media to make that change.
TVEP identified three cases in which they had been recently involved, and which highlight some of the problems their community deals with.
A community looks on and films real-life torture scene
Last year, TVEP was alerted to a horrific crime – a man and his son beat and tortured a teenage girl for six hours, bashing her body with a hammer and pulling at her ears and extremities with a pair of pliers. Members of the community stood on and watched the brutal scene, some filming the incident on their cell phones. Videos of the beating circulated far and wide in the community and beyond. It is even alleged that a DVD with clips of the torture was sold by an informal vendor.
The girl was attacked for having stolen some clothes. TVEP got involved when a local mother found her young son watching a video of the torture. She called TVEP who found that a chain of events had gone wrong for the victim since the incident. She had not accessed counselling, and professes that after the incident, she was taken to the police station, where she spent the night – and only taken to hospital the following day. She had been caught stealing before and was on probation, but her probation officer was only contacted some time afterwards, and his advice was not properly followed concerning her care.
TVEP intervened and increased the number of charges from the charge of common assault laid by the survivor and her mother to include attempted murder, child pornography, and theft (they stole her cell phone), among others. For the victim, TVEP ensured that she accessed counselling and provided transport for her counselling, court, hospital and dental visits. On all of these occasions, she was accompanied by her TVEP ‘buddy’: the staff member who a survivor first interacts with at TVEP’s trauma centre becomes that survivor’s buddy, helping them navigate the structures of police, courts, hospitals and more. This greatly lessens the impact of secondary trauma, as the survivor does not need to re-tell and re-live his or her experience of violence over and over again, often to highly desensitized service providers.
An article about the attack ran in the South African newspaper, the Mail and Guardian, causing a nationwide reaction. One reader wrote to TVEP, moved to help the girl. He ended up liaising with TVEP and paying for her to have tooth implants – two teeth were crushed by the blows of the hammer, and another fell out some time afterwards. They also collaborated to buy her a school uniform, and a small Christmas present. Her attackers are still awaiting trial.
Still behind bars…
One man went to prison in 2002 after being found guilty of raping his 13 year old daughter in 2000. The judgment and sentence were made based purely on the oral testimony of the man’s daughter (the victim, 15 years old at the trial), and his son (14 years old at the trial).
In 2005 after having lived behind bars for three years, his daughter visited him in jail and confessed that her mother had convinced her to frame her father. She made a sworn statement to this effect, swearing that her father had never raped her and that she had visited him in prison at her own will.
This man, seven years later, is still waiting in jail, although having been granted the right to appeal. A number of lawyers in succession were assigned to his case, to assist him in making the appeal, but none of them produced the goods and all abandoned him before lodging an appeal. As of now, he has made a pro se (on his own behalf) application for urgent bail. TVEP learned of his plight in 2011, and they worked to connect him with Legal Aid, which was supposed to be handling his appeal. Legal Aid was unresponsive and unhelpful.
It boggles the mind to think that a man, who was very likely wrongly accused, who has had the necessary evidence supporting his innocence for seven years to date, has had to live in jail for so long because the government-provided lawyers have not cared enough.
An appointment for rape
Also reported in the Mail and Guardian last year, is the case of a doctor who, in one day, raped a woman and attempted to rape another woman who incidentally was pregnant at the time. Both laid charges. The doctor received bail but the bail conditions did not prevent him from continuing to practice as a doctor. The women approached TVEP and they were provided counselling and other assistance from the trauma centre. When TVEP began to look into the matter, it emerged that the doctor had a number of similar claims made about him. They have been, and still are, pushing for the Health Professionals Council of South Africa – the health profession’s regulatory body – to investigate the claims and take appropriate action, but they also have not been particularly cooperative to say the least.
The doctor will go to trial in April this year, and TVEP will be monitoring the process and supporting the survivors.
Thohoyandou, like many rural towns in South Africa, struggles under the weight of poverty and high unemployment, government corruption, and a poor education system, to name a few problems. These and other challenges, like a lack of skill, dedication and impetus in the police service, perpetuate a space where violence is rife and women and children in particular are very vulnerable. TVEP is the only organisation in the area offering such a wide range of crucial services to often marginalised community members.
We are happy to partner with such an effective, established and vital organisation that is doing such crucial work. To find out more about TVEP, visit their website: www.tvep.org.za