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DGRU and LifeLine Campaign

A COLLABORATION FOR THE BENEFIT OF VICTIMS OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN THE COURTS – DGRU & LIFELINE, WESTERN CAPE

In May 2019, the International Bar Association (IBA) published a landmark report “Us Too? Bullying and Sexual Harassment in the Legal Profession”. This was the largest survey of its kind conducted by the legal profession and the report captures the responses of almost 7 000 respondents from 135 countries. Respondents were predominately based in law firms (73%) and demographically approximately half of respondents were European.

The results of the survey revealed that respondents had experienced bullying and sexual harassment. One in two women and one in three men surveyed described themselves as having been subject to bullying, while one in three women and one in fourteen men surveyed stated that they were subject to sexual harassment in the workplace. Whilst there is no publicly available empirical data for Southern Africa on sexual harassment in the courts, anecdotal evidence speaks overwhelmingly to it being a huge problem and a well-kept secret.

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The IBA survey did not engage with other people within the setting of the legal profession. Those are the people who make up the courts’ staff – the judges, magistrates, prosecutors, registrars, clerks, interpreters, cleaners, security staff and the like. More often than not, it is those people who are not in any positions of power who are abused by those in positions of power – the judge, magistrate, prosecutor, advocate etc.

Research on sexual harassment in the court setting

Considering the lacuna in the research by the IBA and the fact that there is absolutely no research recently conducted on sexual harassment in the court setting, the Democratic Governance and Rights Unit (DGRU) resolved to be the first to conduct such research. The DGRU is an applied research unit based in the Faculty of Law at the University of Cape Town. Its core focus is judicial governance in Africa. The DGRU conducts applied research in order to make recommendations for practice and policy reform within the judicial system. As a result, the DGRU is well-placed to conduct research on sexual harassment in the court setting.

Sexual harassment is a sensitive issue and research into this issue requires careful consideration. When commencing with the project on sexual harassment, the DGRU was ethically required to ensure that there are safety measures put in place to prevent any secondary harm being suffered by participants in the research project. As a result, the DGRU collaborated with LifeLine, Western Cape.

Collaboration with LifeLine

LifeLine, Western Cape was established in November 1968. LifeLine International has over 250 centres in 14 different countries, with 26 LifeLine centres in Southern Africa. The main objective of LifeLine,Western Cape is to provide support to people in emotional need by empowering them through non-directive, empathetic counselling. LifeLine, Western Cape counsellors are highly trained and skilled and have all taken a pledge of confidentiality.

In collaboration with the DGRU LifeLine, Western Cape, set up a WhatsApp and call line (“the Helpline”) dedicated to receiving sexual harassment complaints from people in the South African courts setting seeking support and guidance. The Helpline is manned by dedicated and highly trained and skilled counsellors who respond to complaints relating to sexual harassment received through the dedicated Helpline.

Confidential Helpline

For the purposes of the project, the LifeLine, Westren Cape counsellors have an ethical duty not to collect any personal identifying data from those who make contact through the Helpline. In turn, the only data received by the DGRU from the Helpline is the number of communications / calls received through the Helpline and nature of the communication / call (whether it relates to sexual harassment in the court setting).

The project by the DGRU started on 1 September 2022 and is due to end on 31 August 2024. This is a funding-based project which is proudly funded by the Ford Foundation. From 1 September 2022 to date, the DGRU has put in a lot of work into the project. However, this has just been a scratch on the surface.

The Helpline number is +27 72 355 2341.

The total engagements (WhatsApp and Calls) with the helpline to date is 76 (as of March 2024). The top two counselling topics in the last six months have related to sexual harassment and rape.

It is important that if you or anyone you know has experienced sexual harassment or any form of unwarranted attention from anyone in the courts, that you please speak up and contact LifeLine, Western Cape.

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