Rape Survivor speaks out in support of the DNA Bill

Last night we received a copy of a submission that is on its way to Parliament in support of the DNA Bill. It was written by a passionate young woman with an enormous amount of courage and tenacity. As South Africans, we are so desensitised to the unacceptably high level of violence perpetrated against us, our women and children. This letter breaks those barriers and makes us touch that coal face of brutality, that we do not have to accept. The DNA Bill has the potential to fight back against that brutality, and hearing it from a rape survivor, makes it all the more real. If you haven’t already made a stand against violent crime in South Africa by supporting this DNA Bill, perhaps after reading this letter, you will be prepared to do so:

‘My name is Jes Foord and I recently celebrated 5 years of being a rape survivor.

In March 2008, I was brutally raped.  It was daytime and I was with my father walking our dogs in a public park near my home in Hillcrest, KwaZulu-Natal.  My father was beaten and tied up and forced at gunpoint to watch as four men raped me, his little girl.  Both our lives were changed forever.   At that point, I had a choice to make, I could let it destroy me, or I could become a survivor.   I chose the latter and    I chose to speak up.  I reported it and for the next year jumped over hurdle after hurdle, enduring physically, mentally, emotionally – every step necessary to see justice done with very little protection in place for my rights as a victim.

From the outset I would like to say that I firmly believe that the DNA Bill that I am writing to the Portfolio Committee of Police about today does not infringe on the rights of the accused and instead will help to ensure there are less victims who will have to endure what I did.

As a rape survivor, I know how vitally important the Criminal Law (Forensics Procedures) Amendment Bill is to our nation and I applaud its introduction into Parliament.  I am here to beg you to pass it into law as a matter of extreme urgency in the fight against rape in our country.  1 out of 3 women will be raped before they turn 21 and 50% of them will be under 10.  You must be as horrified at these statistics as the rest of the world.  The passage of this Bill is one step toward changing those statistics.

If this Bill becomes law, it will help identify serial offenders at an early stage of the investigation, helping to prevent rape before it happens.  Because it links perpetrators to their crimes through an objective and reliable science it will increase conviction rates.   But it also gathers evidence that can prove a suspect did not do the crime and thus protects the innocent from wrongful convictions.

The DNA Database in South Africa as it currently exists is not an effective tool for regulating the use and retention of DNA profiles on a National DNA Database. The new Bill ensures that the future of the current DNA Database is expanded and managed in a regulated and appropriate manner designed to protect the rights of accused and those convicted while at the same time protecting the public and improving the chances of justice for victims.

Rape survivor, Jes Foord speaks up in support of the DNA Bill

Rape survivor, Jes Foord speaks up in support of the DNA Bill

As a survivor, an important part of my healing process, of recovery, was seeing that the men that raped me were sent to prison.  The system, society, validated that what was done to me was wrong.  With a dismal 14% conviction rate in South Africa, most victims never get that sense of empowerment for seeing justice done.  This Bill can help change that.

I also want to stress the importance of certain provisions of the Bill.  The Bill makes it mandatory to take DNA samples from suspects at the time of arrest and I believe that it should extend to all arrestees and not just those arrested for schedule one offences.

It is also crucial that all convicted offenders DNA samples are taken retrospectively and before their release from prison.  This will ensure that an offender is not released from prison when in fact his DNA is a match for unsolved rape cases that are out there.  50% of child rapists are repeat offenders.  Catching them before they are released is a hugely effective tool of prevention.  If you could do something to stop a child from being raped, wouldn’t you do it?

I further support the provision that trained Police Officers be allowed to take non intimate DNA samples from arrestees and convicted offenders. This is done by a specially trained police officer and is quickly and easily obtained. The “invasiveness” of the methods of obtaining DNA samples (rubbing a swab around the person’s mouth, or obtaining a drop or two of blood from a pin-prick to a finger), are no different to having a breathalyser taken on suspicion of drunken driving.  This can in no way be viewed as invasive when compared to the invasiveness of the procedures taken on a rape victim during an investigation.

The samples taken from me would never be described as non intimate or non invasive.  I was probed and swabbed vaginally and anally.  They pulled samples of my hair out and scraped my ears and eyes.  Pictures and diagrams of my body were viewed by police, lawyers, the court.  I endured all this as the innocent victim.  Surely a swab in the mouth of an accused rapist cannot be seen as invasive.

The DNA Bill adequately retains an appropriate balance between the rights of individuals and the respect for privacy. The new Bill has been carefully drafted to ensure that the DNA Database is maximized to its full potential in combating and preventing crime in South Africa, while still ensuring that it has minimal impact on the civil rights of its citizens.

The Bill calls for an Oversight Committee to be formed which will monitor the implementation of this legislation. The Oversight Committee will monitor the collection and storage of samples, the performance of the Forensic Science Laboratory and the National Forensic DNA Database. The Board will ensure compliance with ethical and privacy issues.  Over time the Oversight Committee should establish the effectiveness of the legislation in the fight against crime and review the Bill in order to maximise the efficiency of the use of the Database as a criminal intelligence tool. I would like to suggest that more non governmental organisations be included on this Oversight Committee and that the total number of such members not be restricted to two people.

In order to ensure the successful implementation of this legislation, I believe that First-on-crime scene police investigators, as well as key personnel involved in crime scenes, including the private security and emergency services sector, must be trained in how to identify, collect and preserve DNA evidence at crime scenes, so that critical evidence can be collected and fewer cases will be at risk of being jeopardised due to the mishandling of evidence. In addition, officers of the courts must be educated in how DNA evidence technology works to strengthen a case against the guilty or prove the innocence of a suspect quickly, thereby decreasing delays in court.

The public interest which is served by the new Bill is important, especially in cases of violent crime where DNA matching has proven to be invaluable in matching a suspect to a crime scene. I believe the Bill, when passed, will have a profound impact on the criminal justice system in South Africa and on decreasing rape in this country.

After my rape experience, I have dedicated my life to the battle against rape and to restoring lives after rape.  I have formed a non-profit organization, The Jes Foord Foundation, and travel the country raising awareness about the issues facing people already affected by crime as well as those who may still become victims of serious and violent crimes so prevalent in South Africa.  Thousands have shared their stories with me so I know the realities of rape in South Africa. I am thus in a strong position to appreciate the importance this legislation and fully support the passing of the DNA Bill.

I am formally requesting the opportunity to make a verbal presentation to the Committee.

Sincerely, Jes Foord
Director and Founder of the Jes Foord Foundation’

To show your support to pass the DNA Bill click here

5 Responses to “Rape Survivor speaks out in support of the DNA Bill”

  1. Catherine Arnesen says:

    The Avaaz petition states that I have until the 30/05. Signed anyway.

    • Vanessa says:

      Thank you. We will continue to collect signatures and present them to Parliament at the public hearings in two weeks time.

  2. lewis says:

    Jes, you are a survivor and a winner! Congratulations on your phenomenal spirit and gumption as well as your selfless dedication for the cause. You are an inspiration to all the many thousands of rape survivors who do not have a voice or who live in fear. Well done and may you continue to have the energy and dedication that is required in order to get the required action from government, whilst enstilling hope and compassion for the victims that become mere statistics every day. You are a star!

  3. Alan Preston says:

    I remember when this atrocity took place and it was one of the deciding factors in my decision to get my family out of South Africa. I could not see that crime there would ever be any better or more inline with most civilised societies.
    I commend this young lady for her termination in improving the odds against potential rape victims. She is a lot stronger than I could ever be.
    If they do not pass this proposed bill then I fear there is no hope left for law abiding citizens.
    I wish you success in your fight against crime.

  4. Stephanie says:

    So important