VEP forum launched in Milnerton

From left, are Odette de Kock, of the A21 Campaign; Fezeka Magaqana, a Milnerton social worker; Albert Fritz, Social Development MEC; Soraya Abrahams, a Social Development regional director, and Renèe Botha, the victim empowerment programme director.

Milnerton has earned itself a reputation as a hot spot for human trafficking, but now a government programme is promising to give victims of this and other gender-based crime immediate and professional help.

The provincial Department of Social Development launched a local Victim Empowerment Programme (VEP) forum at Milnerton police station last week.

It will draw on support from, among others, the police, the National Prosecuting Authority and shelters for abused women to help victims of both trafficking and gender violence.

They will be able to get support at the police station from trained individuals or be referred to other support structures that are part of the network.

At the launch, Social Development MEC Albert Fritz called Milnerton a “place of hyper-human trafficking”, and said the crime had to be stopped at the source.

“When you have a broken tap, you don’t wipe the water off the floor, you fix the tap,” he said.

“I don’t like these summits, frankly, it is a waste of taxpayers’ money. We need real work done to actively help these victims. There is just too much bureaucracy and we get caught up in too much red tape.”

He said human trafficking in Milnerton was part of a much bigger global scourge, one that needed urgent action.

“Poverty and unemployment are the two push factors that contribute to human trafficking. These criminals are getting more sophisticated in the way they lure women, up until the point where they are sold.”

In November last year, two brothers were arrested for running a brothel in Brooklyn and were charged with human trafficking (“Suspects appear in court for ‘brothel’,” Tabletalk, November 8, 2017). A month later, three people, two foreigners and a South African woman, were arrested for luring a Johannesburg woman to Cape Town and turning her into a sex worker, (“Human traffickers nabbed in Milnerton,” Tabletalk, December 13, 2017).

Sihle Ngobese, Mr Fritz’s spokesman, told Tabletalk that victims could endure secondary trauma if police officers weren’t trained to help them.

“There will now be victim support from various NGOs at the stations. There will be counselling provided and social workers called in to assist if necessary,” he said.

Soraya Abrahams, a Social Development regional manager, said red tape handicapped the fight against human trafficking, often making things worse for the victims.

Often, victims had to wait for hours at a police station without getting the right help.

“Milnerton has come under the spotlight in recent months because of the high rate of human trafficking,” she said.

“Victims need care plans and specialised individuals to deal with specific types of trauma. The care plans need to be catered for individual victims.”

The department, she said, could not fight human trafficking alone. All the stakeholders need to get involved,” she said.

The programme is funded by Social Development and the VEP budget has been boosted by R13 million this financial year to R46 million.

All provinces are required to have VEP forums at provincial, regional and local levels.

VEP programmer manager Renèe Botha said: “In society and in government departments, we often expect the victims to be the one running around to get to different departments to get help, but this just elongates the process of healing.

“We need to be the ones to make it easier for the victims to access help from a number of stakeholders with not as much legwork.”

Family Court magistrate Alta le Roux said much more needed to be done to help victims.

“When they walk into my office, sometimes you can see the hopelessness in their eyes, and some of them you can see that they are used to being beaten. We simply cannot fail our victims, and we need to know how to handle all situations,” she said.

Table View police spokeswoman Captain Adriana Chandler said SAPS, as part of the forum, would provide support to traumatised victims of crime.

“The forum will also be able to provide an updated list of organisations within the cluster who will provide support and services to traumatised clients,” she said.

People trying to get in contact with the programme can access the information and assistance from their local police station. Residents can also report any suspected cases of trafficked women and/or children to the police or to the DSD Hotline on 0800 220 250.