Johannesburg – She couldn’t see her rapist. She was calm and clear. She simply told the court what happened to her at the Dros restaurant last year.
But some experts have criticised the National Prosecuting Authority for having the 8-year-old testify in the first place.
Nicholas Ninow has pleaded guilty to raping the minor, who testified in camera at the North Gauteng High court in Pretoria this week.
The NPA’s deputy director of court preparation, Karen Tewson, said the agency helped children to cope with their fears while on the stand. “Court preparation is very important before the trial commences. We have protective measures in place and we try and protect them as much as possible.
But Shaheda Omar, clinical director of The Teddy Bear Foundation, said the child may have been well prepared on the day, but that did not mean she was okay or would be fine afterwards.
“It is an unpredictable process and could be quite risky, not knowing the aftermath of testifying and how it would impact on the child. Feelings, such as fear, anxiety, guilt and sadness and other emotions may surface.”
Omar added that the country was regulated by the Children’s Act and that the best interests of the child were paramount.
“If one cannot guarantee the emotional and psychological well-being of the child it would not be worth risking. We have had children who have testified and then struggled with many challenges thereafter because it has reminded them of the trauma and then left them feeling hopeless, helpless and out of control.”
Omar said the NPA had limits when it came to the psychosocial well-being of the child and pushing for the child to testify at all costs was not the best route to pursue.
“Ideally, no child should have to re-tell their story, but in cases where there are no witnesses it may be the only option to secure a conviction. But in this case there was a plea of guilt and there were other witnesses,” Omar said.
Women & Men Against Child Abuse agreed that it could potentially be traumatising for a child to give testimony about abuse, but in the Dros case there were various factors to bear in mind
“Ninow’s victim only had to testify about the events leading up to the abuse and not on the act itself, which turned out to solidify the case against her rapist because the prosecution could thereby show intent from Ninow, which will be no doubt used in aggravation during sentencing.”
The spokesperson said if court preparation was done properly, the child’s identity remained protected.
“She doesn’t have to see her rapist and she receives therapy after testifying; the chances of this testimony impacting negatively can be minimised effectively provided she receives continued proper professional care.”
But Omar said when a child has already told their story, it was not necessary for them to tell it again, so that they are not traumatised further.
“The best interest of the child must come first. It is an unpredictable, unknown factor. We have no idea what impact this will leave on a young victim. It is not something you can cut up and open and see. It is not visible or tangible or measurable.
“Is it really worth taking a risk? Can we guarantee and ensure that the child won’t be subjected to any other trauma after this process? It evokes feeling and emotions. We see with many children that they need intensive therapy after they testify – repressed feelings surface. Then there is an explosion, a bombardment of images, for example.
Omar said such an outcome may not happen to the Dros victim, but it stressed that, in the future, it could.