The tail of a salmon and the words of a girl are the slipperiest things on the planet.
Red Riding Hood versus the Wolf
Who: Teddy Bear Clinic
What: Offer support to children and young people who have been abused.
Red Riding Hood delivers her testimony methodically. She tells her story of the Wolf, Grandmother and the abuse. The ‘defence lawyer’, a child in a black coat, fixes a penetrating glare on Red Riding Hood and says:
“And how can you be so sure it was Mr. Wolf you saw? Could it not have been Mr. Fox?”
“No,” says Red Riding Hood. “It was him.”
She points to the ‘Wolf’ in a black hat standing in the dock. Now it is his turn to be questioned. He insists that he was not in the forest at all that day. He was visiting his aunt who lives on the other side of the lake.
“Can wolves swim?” asks the shrewd prosecutor, who is also played by a small girl in a black coat.
“No,” laughs the wolf. “Of course wolves can’t swim.”
“So how did you manage to get round the lake, to your aunt’s?”
The wolf’s lie has been revealed and the judge, wearing a white ruffle, finds him guilty of the abuse of Grandmother and Red Riding Hood.
The wolf’s lie has been revealed and the judge, wearing a white ruffle, finds him guilty of the abuse of Grandmother and Red Riding Hood. The children heave a sigh of relief and remove their dressing-up clothes. They have just had a lesson in how justice is done, through role play. They need to practise, because it will soon be their turn.
“Most of the children who have to give evidence in court here in Johannesburg do not have to be present in the courtroom,” says Marilo Murray, who is responsible for the trial preparation programme at the Teddy Bear Clinic in Johannesburg, South Africa. “Children are usually questioned on camera in another room, but not all the courts have such a room, and in any case the children need to know what the courtroom looks like.”
Children, young people and parents come to the clinic on weekdays, some for counselling after abuse, some for the abuser to receive treatment.
It is Saturday afternoon at the clinic, where teddy bears of all sizes are squashed onto sofas and in window recesses. Children, young people and parents come to the clinic on weekdays, some for counselling after abuse, some for the abuser to receive treatment. But today it is Saturday and what is taking place is preparation for a trial.
Boits, a young black female volunteer wearing a crocheted hat over dreadlocks, takes care of the teenagers, together with Leatia, a veteran. The four teenage girls who have had the courage to report their rapist to the police are shy and reluctant to speak. Boits begins by asking them:
“What do you know about the courts?”
The girls mumble their impressions from previous visits.
“You have to put your hand up if you want to go to the toilet.”
“You’re allowed to cry.”
“If you don’t understand the question you have to say so.”
“You have to answer all the questions.”
Sometimes the defence lawyer might look angry, to make you feel uncertain. You have to try to ignore that.
Boits and Leatia go on to explain the roles of the prosecutor and the defence lawyer.
“Sometimes the defence lawyer might look angry, to make you feel uncertain. You have to try to ignore that. He is not allowed to shout at you. If he does, the prosecutor or the judge will stop him. Sometimes he will use long difficult legal words. If you don’t understand you must say so. Don’t say “I think it was a Friday” if you’re not sure. Say you don’t remember. Never guess!”
Nobody talks specifically about the terrible events which led to the police report and the prosecution and trial. Two of the perpetrators are in custody, but two are out on bail. The girls are afraid of them.
One of the teenagers says that her parents are planning to be present in the courtrooom. “Yes,” says Leatia, “your parents can be there, but only if that’s what you want. We don’t actually think it’s a good idea. You have to answer all the questions truthfully, for example if you have a boyfriend or have had sex. That might be difficult if your parents are in the room ...”
Your parents can be there, but only if that’s what you want.
In an adjacent room, parents sit sunk into low waiting-room sofas, talking. Many have themselves experienced sexual violence.
62-year-old Gloria is foster-mother to a girl who has lost her parents. She tells us she is old and sick, and that she is pursuing the girl’s case even though she does not really have the energy. Gloria has lived in the South Africa where violence was an everyday fact of life for a black woman. She has been raped many times. Now that it is finally possible to get justice, when democracy has given even a small black girl a voice, she wants to be part of it.
Victoria is the mother of two girls who will soon be giving evidence against their abuser. She has attended the Teddy Bear Clinic’s trial preparations many times.
“At first I thought everything was so slow. I wanted my children to be able to forget and to move on as quickly as possible. Now I understand that it’s good for the children that it is allowed to take time. The therapy has helped them to remember new details. My tears have continued to flow, but it feels good. And I can also see that my situation is not the worst. I can give other parents good advice.”
Johannesburg’s karate club arrives to train the children in self-defence.
The therapy sessions are over. Everyone is given lunch and Johannesburg’s karate club arrives to train the children in self-defence:
“Stand with one leg in front of the other, it’ll give you better balance.”
“Yell when you hit! Yelling makes you stronger.”
The Teddy Bear Clinic was founded in 1986 to provide medical examinations to children who have been subjected to abuse. The medical clinic continues to provide medical examinations to victims of child abuse and neglect. The medical team provides second opinions where needed and are often called to testify in court. Training is also provided to other medical practitioners and professionals. The Teddy Bear Clinic provides integrated services to victims of child abuse and to their families. It ranges from therapy, assessments, court preparation and victim support.
Ten therapists offer counselling for children who have been subjected to all types of violence – sexual, physical, mental or economic.
The Teddy Bear Clinic also treats boys who have been convicted of minor sexual crimes. Boxing, dance and conversation therapy help them to channel their feelings in new ways.
Maternal deaths: 236 deaths per l00,000 births
Number of children/woman: 2.3 (2011)
Abortion legislation: Right to abortion during the first three months of pregnancy depending entirely on the wishes of the woman. Thereafter up to the sixth month of pregnancy if there are special reasons, such as the health of the woman or an abnormality of the foetus. (2007)
Law against rape within marriage: Yes
Violence against women in close relationships: in 2010 almost 68,000 cases of sexual harassment were reported in a six-month period, most of them rape. It is claimed that almost 28 per cent of the male population have raped a woman or girl. 40 per cent of South African women stated in a report published by the WHO that their first sexual experience took place without their consent.