Dr Marietjie Botes
Too many women in South Africa go through the trauma of rape and most of them agree that their experience of the legal system is just another attack on them. During the criminal court process they feel isolated, bullied, are accused of criminal behaviour, that “they were looking for it” and in general feel “raped all over again”. Subsequently fewer and fewer women wants to testify in rape cases, which situation leads to more and more rapists escaping punishment, which may ultimately cause an increase in these types of criminal acts because perpetrators no longer fear the criminal justice system, because they know and expect that nothing may happen to them, leading to criminals not fearing legal repercussions and taking no responsibility for their actions! The Visual Law Lab (Pty) Ltd, is a private company that creates visual communication tools to communicate complex legal issues to a broad spectrum of people. We are doing this by using comics, graphic novels and infographics to name but a few. Being both a practicing attorney and founder/managing director of The Visual Law Lab (Pty) Ltd, I engaged with a rape surviving client who is willing to tell her story, and more specifically her experience of South Africa’s criminal justice system by means of a comic. Why comics? Comics have the ability to de-identify any person via the use of a sketched character, without detracting from any characteristics of the real person, whilst still telling the real person’s unique story. It is easy for comic characters to create empathy because anybody can identify with them. Comic characters also allow people to focus more on the story line, instead of the person telling the story and thus place emphasis on the message of the story. Comics allow people, faced with similar circumstances, know that they are not alone. It gives people a peek into the life and struggles of this rape survivor and her experiences with the criminal court process, whilst simultaneously serving as a mirror for the reader of such a comic who struggles with similar problems or facing similar challenges. Valuable lessons and legal information can be shared and distributed this way. Notwithstanding the sharing of my client’s story by means of a comic, she will remain anonymous because the character she chooses can be designed to look completely different from her, but can still depict her exact emotional responses and experiences. The comics medium make it easier for her to tell her story in much more detail, without holding back or being scared of being identified, than would have otherwise been the case. Why her story? The comic telling my client’s story (especially her personal experience of the criminal court process) will be distributed at trauma centres, law clinics and non-profit organisations which may give women in similar situations, who also faces criminal court processes, courage to: 1. persevere with their testimony and see the court process through; 2. let them know that they are not alone, that their experiences are not that unique (other women are going through the same) and that it is not their fault; 3. provide them with courage and a “voice” which may normally be supressed by fear or societal circumstances; 4. provide them with someone to identify and connect with (even though it may only be a character); 5. provide them with much needed guidance about court procedure and what to expect emotionally when actually testifying, which guidance is sorely lacking. In summary Comics bridge communication gaps and traverse boundaries such as age, literacy, gender and cultural differences and can communicate messages to a much broader community than other standard forms of communication WITH the protection of the story teller’s identity, especially having regard to sensitive stories such as those told by rape survivors.