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Justice for raped girl

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The case against Elvin Davids resumed in the Upington Regional Court yesterday after he was accused of raping the disabled girl

File picture: SAPS Twitter

THE PERSISTENCE of an Upington social worker, Inge Reichert, resulted in a 14-year-old cerebral palsy girl receiving justice seven years after her rape case was almost scrapped from the court roll.

The case against Elvin Davids resumed in the Upington Regional Court yesterday after he was accused of raping the disabled girl.

Reichert, who was previously involved with the Association for Persons with Disabilities (APD), was assigned to the case to investigate the fitness of the child’s mother’s parental duties.

“I became aware of the matter in March 2013 when I had to assess the mother. The assignment was motivated by the mother’s alcohol abuse which prevented her from properly caring for her three children. The child was placed in safety care for six months and then, when she was placed in the care of a foster parent, she shared details about the rape. The foster parent then subsequently alerted me to the alleged abuse,” Reichert said.

She said that the girl’s biological mother reported the matter to the police in August 2012, but limited help was offered to the girl.

“The girl’s mother submitted a formal complaint of the rape incident to the South African Police Service (SAPS) in Rosedale in Upington in August 2012 after her then seven-year-old daughter made her aware of the alleged rape performed by a male friend of a family member. The girl was medically examined and the SAPS’s Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences (FCS) unit in Upington became involved,” she said.

“No initial action was taken because the unfair and discriminatory assumption was made that the victim would not be a reliable or credible witness because of her severe cerebral palsy, including a speech impediment.”

Reichert said that in 2013 she decided to approach other organisations to assist, but most were not willing to help.

“I approached the SAPS investigation officer, the manager of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) in Upington and the representative of the Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities in the Northern Cape and organised a consultation session with these role-players and the manager of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in Upington. I did not receive much support and was told by the SAHRC provincial office that the NPA’s criteria for prosecution included a successful outcome, which was not likely given the girl’s disability, which would also make court proceedings very problematic.”

Reichert said she eventually found support at a law firm that took the case on for free.

“I presented the case to Therina Wentzel-Du Toit, the national director of the National Council for Persons with Disabilities (NCPD), who in turn, got attorneys involved on a pro bono basis. Persistent advocacy efforts driven by the NCPD, as well as appeals to the highest authorities in the Department of Justice, eventually led to the NPA’s national office instructing its Kimberley branch in July 2016 to commence with prosecuting procedures,” said Reichert.

She added that the accused was arrested in Bloemfontein, but the matter was again delayed as the accused was hospitalised and treated for tuberculosis (TB).

Reichert said that they acquired new technology to help the young girl, whose speech is impaired, to testify.

“The NCPD approached the University of Pretoria’s Centre for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (CAAC) to assess possible alternative ways for the victim to give evidence in court. The child was assessed in January 2017 and it was found that with the use of a tablet that was specially programmed in Afrikaans, she would be able to communicate so that all parties could follow her evidence.

“In June 2018, the CAAC made submissions to the NPA on the use of a tablet for the child to use in testifying. The Department of Justice acquired a tablet for the victim to use as a means of communication in giving evidence and, despite never having received any formal education, she mastered the use of the aid with the assistance of a speech therapist. The court proceedings finally commenced in March this year.”

Reichert stated that this had been a seven-year uphill battle and she hoped that the case would be finalised soon.

Wentzel-Du Toit said that the matter will be a breakthrough for all sexual assault survivors as well as those with intellectual disabilities.

“A successful outcome in this case will not just be a win for this particular girl, but for all other children, particularly females who are living with disabilities and are at risk of being sexually molested. These girls and women are failed by the system time and time again. This specific case is especially significant in the light of the global #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault as well as the protests against the abuse and killings of women,” said Wentzel-Du Toit.