CAPE TOWN: 30 August 2021

The WLC encouraged by WCHC landmark decision against an interdict seeking to silence rape survivor

The WLC welcomes the judgement made by Judge Baartman earlier today in which she found against Melvin Booysen who had sought to interdict June Major Dolley from posting about him publicly and on social media.

This landmark case highlights the tensions that exist when alleged perpetrators approach the Courts to gag womxn and prevent them from exercising their right to freedom of expression and speaking their truth.

The case concerned a final interdict order being sought by Melvin Booysen against June Major Dolley. This interdict order sought to restrain her from indirectly or directly posting about him publicly or on social media until the internal tribunal process was completed by the Anglican Church. June Major Dolley had accused Melvin Booysen of raping her in 2002 and started posting these allegations on social media around 2016. Melvin Booysen sought urgent protection from the Courts in March 2021 on the basis that her posts were defamatory and caused damage to his good name, reputation and standing in the community. 

June Major Dolley had stated that she was posting on social media to speak out against rape and to provide a community and a space of healing for all womxn who had survived rape. She decided to speak publicly after her attempts to seek justice through the criminal justice system and church processes had failed, and she was not believed.

The Court found that Melvin Booysen did not meet the requirements for a final interdict due to the fact that the social media posts had been published and had been in the public domain since 2016. There was thus no basis for Melvin Booysen to approach the court seeking urgent interdictory relief. The Court found that Melvin Booysen had withheld relevant information in order to justify the urgency in bringing this interdict application. The Court also found that in this present case, the Respondent had shown a defence for any defamatory claims.

The legal counsel for Melvin Booysen stated that June Major Dolley should not have mentioned him by name and that she should have described him as her alleged rapist instead of stating that he raped her. The Court found this proposition – that alleged rapists should have editorial rights over an alleged victim – to be an astounding one.

The WLC joined the matter as amicus curiae, or a friend of the court, making submissions to bring a specific feminist lens and gendered context to the case. In its capacity as a friend of the court, the WLC focuses on the high levels of sexual violence against womxn in South Africa and on how the low rate of prosecution of sexual offences has contributed to womxn’s insecurity and lack of trust in the criminal justice system and Courts. By joining the matter as a friend of the court, the WLC sought to highlight how the victimization and silencing of victims of violence by the institutional processes and the criminal justice system is one of the reasons why womxn resort to speaking publicly.

The judgement recognised that the matter needed to be heard within a specific context as brought by the WLC. In its judgement, the court quoted from the WLC’s written and oral submissions, which highlight how the context of mass rape in South Africa, the structural impunity, the culture of silencing, and the isolation which victims suffer, all mean that the online publication of acts of violence against womxn and the identification of their perpetrators are reasonable acts. The judgement concluded that a claim of defamation is therefore unsustainable in these circumstances.

The WLC welcomes this judgement as it has recognised the impact on all womxn who are trying to navigate the horror of rape in South Africa. The judgement acknowledges that the posts “moved far beyond naming Melvin Booysen as a rapist” and that, instead, the case now concerned the 8000 womxn who have either shared their experiences or have been encouraged to speak out and seek help in respect of their own abuse through the social media posts of June Major Dolley.

The WLC has several other cases with similar facts, and hopes that this will set a precedent showing that the Courts believe womxn who survive and speak out against violence against womxn and that the very perpetrators who abuse the court process will not be allowed to further silence, victimise and gag womxn.

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The Women’s Legal Centre is an African feminist legal centre that advances womxn’s rights and equality using tools such as litigation, advocacy, education, advice, research and training.

For media enquiries contact Ru du Toit (communications@wlce.co.za or 079 990 2494)

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