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20 October 2021
The Scourge of GBV and the Criminal Justice System Response in South Africa: Jesse Hess and Chris Lategan
University of the Western Cape student Jesse Hess and her elderly grandfather, Chris Lategan, were murdered in their home in Parow, Cape Town, on 20 August 2019. According to reports, Hess and Lategan were strangled to death during a robbery at their home in which a television set and two cellphones were stolen.

Two men have been arrested for the murders, but little progress has been made with the court process. In May this year, the Western Cape High Court postponed the trial to 2022. During an emotional tribute at her memorial service at the University, her brother Darren Solomon described her as “loving, caring, smart and loyal”. She would have celebrated her 21st birthday this month.
    Cherith Sanger is a lecturer in the
    Department of Criminal Justice &
    Procedure of UWC's Faculty of Law.

Whilst the motive for the murders is connected to the robbery, Hess’ murder also constitutes Gender-Based Violence (GBV). United Nations Women (UN Women) defines GBV as “any act ... that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion, or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life”.

Lategan’s murder may not fall within the UN Women’s definition of GBV, but considering his age and the likelihood that he could be overpowered by his murderers, as was the case with Hess, it raises questions about the power dynamics and the abuse of his vulnerability.
 
The Prevalence of GBV in South Africa
South Africa has amongst the highest rates of GBV in the world, and the COVID-19 pandemic has been reported as contributing to an increase in GBV. Women are acutely vulnerable to different forms of violence in various spheres of life, ranging from intimate partner violence in their homes to violent crime perpetrated against them by strangers on the streets and, as in Hess’ case, in her home by people who may have been known to her.
 
The Causes of GBV in South Africa
GBV is an expression of unfair discrimination against women, flowing from patriarchal and gender inequitable attitudes, social and economic systems, and practices. Men’s use of violence against women, men and gender non-confirming persons is linked to learnt toxic masculinity flowing from harmful gender norms taught and promoted through society, culture, and religion. Poor socio-economic conditions and the excessive use of alcohol and drugs also drive GBV  in South Africa. South Africa’s history of colonisation and apartheid has played a critical role in promoting the use of violence, as direct and indirect violence was used as a tool to control and oppress the majority of the population during the periods of colonisation and apartheid. Violence is in many ways presently used as a means of problem solving and to assert power, control, and masculinity, often over marginalised groups of people in society such as women and the elderly.
 
The impact of GBV
GBV has devastating effects on victims, their families, the communities where victims live and society generally. GBV manifests in various forms which all adversely affect its victims psychologically, mentally, and emotionally. Anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and behaviours, post-traumatic stress disorder and grief are all consequences of GBV. GBV creates feelings of insecurity, resulting in victims feeling unsafe and distrusting other members of a community. Community members may decide to limit their and other family members' freedom of movement to avoid acts of GBV.
 
GBV and the Criminal Justice System (CJS)
The systemic failures in the CJS and the shut down, and delays in the CJS due to the COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly left Hess and Lategan’s surviving family members with feelings of injustice. Unfortunately, the slogan ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ has real meaning for many GBV victims, their families, and communities in South Africa. Delayed justice is commonplace in many cases involving violent crime. Delays in the CJS come about due to several factors, including poor investigations by the South African Police Service, the lack of availability of courtrooms and judicial officers because of inundated court rolls, and delay tactics by legal representatives for the accused. These delays are common even though Section 35 of the Constitution gives accused persons the right to finalise their trials without unreasonable delay. In addition, the Service Charter for Victims of Crime and the Public Service Charter sets out the required standards of service to be offered to members of the public by the State and promotes supportive and victim-centred approaches to service delivery for victims of crime.
 
How to support victims of GBV and their families and contribute to reducing GBV in South Africa
There are many ways in which you can support those who have survived GBV or the families of victims who have died because of GBV. Contribute to reducing GBV in SA:
  • Listen to the survivor and their family members when they are ready to talk about their experience of GBV. Never probe for information.
  • Assist them with day-to-day responsibilities which they may not be able to attend to in the aftermath of GBV.
  • Be present in court to offer support.
  • Become involved in community activism to end GBV.
  • Ask community-based organisations in your community to host workshops on GBV.
  • Learn about the law against GBV and victims’ rights and share this information with community members.
  • Learn about the CJS process in GBV cases and share this information with community members.
  • Learn about support services for GBV survivors and their families and inform them of these services. These services could include counselling, legal advice and services, and healthcare services.
References:
  1. https://ewn.co.za/2016/02/19/OPINION-Rape-in-South-Africa-why-the-system-is-failing-women
  2. https://www.tears.co.za/2017/06/15/violence-women-problem-south-africa/amp/
  3. https://www.friendsofunfpa.org/what-is-gender-based-violence-gbv/
  4. https://www.who.int/health-topics/violence-against-women#tab=tab_1
  5. https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/ending-violence-against-women/faqs/types-of-violence#:~:text=Gender%2Dbased%20violence%20(GBV),of%20power%20and%20harmful%20norms.&text=While%20women%20and%20girls%20suffer,boys%20can%20also%20be%20targeted
  6. https://genderjustice.org.za/publication/how-to-support-community-members-affected-by-gender-based-violence/
  7. https://www.tac.org.za/publications/how-to-respond-to-rape-and-other-gender-based-violence/
 Cherith Sanger is a lecturer in the Department of Criminal Justice & Procedure of UWC's Faculty of Law. Sanger has a LLM(UCLA), LLB(UWC) and is an Admitted Legal Practitioner.