CAPE TOWN (SOUTH AFRICA)
Independent Online (IOL.co.za) [South Africa]
August 10, 2021
By Bulelwa Payi
REVEREND June Major told a tribunal set up by the Anglican church to hear sexual assault allegations against one of its priests that on the night of the alleged rape, she felt that something in her died.
The tribunal which started last week came a few days before the Western Cape High Court was scheduled to finalise the application by the alleged perpetrator to interdict the Major from publicly naming him.
However, his name was made public in the tribunal, held under the church’s canon law.
The accused faces charges including sexual assault, sexual harassment, sexual immorality and violation of the Church’s Constitution.
He pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
Major told the tribunal that in 2002 she, the accused whom she regarded as a family friend and another priest, Mark Andrews drove to Grahamstown.
The trip was to find a school for her son as she was to study at the theology seminary the following year.
In the evening, the accused allegedly walked into her bedroom.
“I asked him what he was doing. He did not respond. He proceeded towards me and forced himself on me. I asked him to stop. But he continued to force himself. I was numb and crying. I died when he raped me,” she told the tribunal.
Major also said she phoned Andrews, who stayed in a different house, and told him about the incident.
“Mark came the following day and confronted him (the perpetrator) and told him not to make contact with me. The accused kept silent. Mark told me to consider the reputation and integrity of the church,” said Major.
Years later she told another Anglican priest about the alleged rape, and she was told to “consider the reputation of the church and obedience to the church”.
She also told the tribunal that attempts to have the case heard in court were futile.
In 2015 she went to the Bellville police to lay a charge.
She said she was told that police from Grahamstown would travel to Cape Town for the investigation and she was asked to sign the affidavit which went as far as what she could tell the officer as she got emotional and struggled to continue.
She added that on another occasion, a policeman asked her if the perpetrator had “ejaculated” inside of her and when she said No, he said then it was just an attempted rape.
Major further testified that she was later told that the case was thrown out as the witness denied everything.
A clinical psychologist Melissa Melnick said when she assessed Major in 2017, she presented significant symptoms of major depression and residual symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder related to the alleged 2002 rape incident.
“Any experience of sexual assault is harmful to victims. In my sessions with June she told me of constantly feeling sad, depressed, suicidal, fatigue and insomnia,” Melnick said.
She said she would describe Major as an individual who was “vulnerable who had struggled”.
“You cannot tell us whether she was raped or not. You cannot objectively establish if it happened,” the accused’s legal representative, Advocate Lynette Myburgh asked.
Melnick responded: “I was not physically in the room. There’s no witness apart from the perpetrator.”
A taped recording of a phone conversation between Major and Andrews was played during the hearing.
The conversation made reference to what happened in Grahamstown and that Andrews had not “supported” Major.
“It’s been painful over the years. I have been holding in for far too long. You know what happened that evening. It broke me when you denied it. I need to understand why,” Major told Andrews.
Andrews told the tribunal that after the recording was shared by Major on Facebook, he received a backlash.
“It’s been hurtful. I was called a liar and a coward… In the conversation I had with June the word rape was not mentioned. When she called me on the phone I could hear ordering someone to get out. She told me Melvin was in the room. I felt it was disrespectful of him to do so, and I confronted him the following day,” Andrews said.
The tribunal would continue next week.
But Major, who started the #SayHisName campaign, weeks before naming the rapist publicly on 12 March, said she would conduct a Walk of Prayer Women’s Day on Monday, in support of the campaign.
The campaign, she said, was a fight for the right to publicly name rapists.
The campaign is similar to the #MeToo movement in which perpetrators including celebrities and other well known people were named.
Social media law expert and digital & media partner at Dentons Diana Schwarz said in terms of South African law it was illegal to “name and shame” an alleged sexual perpetrator online.
“Anyone publishing such information can be charged with an obstruction of justice. The identity of victims and perpetrators (especially those under the age of 18 years) are protected by the law,” Schwarz added.
She said an alleged victim who “names & shames” an alleged perpetrator online could face legal action by the alleged perpetrator.
Taking to social media was not necessarily an intention to shame the alleged perpetrators, said lawyer Bronwyn Pithey of the Women’s Legal Centre.
“We don’t see the intention as being malicious or ruining the lives of the perpetrators. But survivors have a right to freedom of expression even though it has to be balanced with other rights.
“Women feel the criminal justice system is failing them and are looking for justice. By sharing their stories on social media they feel they need to support, warn and protect each other,” said Pithey.