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Suspected rapist arrested after Koleinu pushes case

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It took the bravery of one alleged rape victim and two determined Jewish gender-abuse activists to bring to book a surf-school instructor who has allegedly been tormenting women for years.

Ryan Halkett, 41, is alleged to have assaulted at least four female foreign tourists and one local woman at his once popular international surf school in the whale-watching town of Hermanus in the Western Cape.

Halkett, the owner of The Hermanus Surf School and Lodge, appeared in the Hermanus Magistrates Court last Thursday, 9 June, on charges of rape and sexual assault and was released on bail of R1 000. The Hermanus police reportedly arrested him at the lodge and searched the premises for several hours.

The arrest follows months of tireless effort by Rebbetzin Wendy Hendler and Rozanne Sack of Koleinu SA, a non-profit organisation which assists victims of abuse in the community.

Halkett’s alleged abuse was brought to their attention last year, when a young member of the community, herself a near victim of Halkett’s inappropriate behaviour, contacted the organisation raising her concerns. She informed them about alleged rape victims she knew of, and was advised to get them to contact Koleinu SA as soon as possible.

So began a months-long endeavour to try to stop this man from allegedly preying on more young women travellers, they said this week. “We felt so strongly that young unsuspecting women and tourists from all over the world needed to be made aware of this man,” said Hendler.

Together with other abuse and legal experts in the community, including attorney Ian Levitt, they slowly built a case. They heard and recorded several accounts by young female tourists, mostly from abroad, detailing how Halkett allegedly sexually exploited, assaulted, or raped them at the lodge while hosting them.

In September 2021, a Daily Maverick exposé outlined the ordeal of two of the women, both of whom had been travelling alone in South Africa.

The SA Jewish Report spoke to one of them, a woman from Florida, who is a model and graphic designer. She claimed that Halkett raped her in his van in 2014 when she was 20. Still traumatised, in 2021, she began contacting other travellers who had stayed at the surf lodge via Instagram, explaining her ordeal and asking whether they had a similar experience.

Hendler and Sack implored other local women to come forward in a bid to expose the instructor and lay formal charges against him as both victims were unable to lay criminal charges from abroad. Since no formal charges had been laid, his name couldn’t be made public.

A third victim, this time from Germany, read articles online and came forward outlining a similar experience. “We now had three victims but were still stuck in terms of what we could do legally,” said Sack.

Koleinu SA continued to work with the victims, gathering information and helping to support them in coming forward.

“However, we came up against some stumbling blocks mainly because of them being outside of the country and therefore unable to lay criminal charges. We hit a few barriers along the way because of this, and were forced to explore other legal avenues,” she said.

“We realised early on that we were dealing with a career offender who needed to be stopped. He had a similar modus operandi with each of his victims, and in spite of being exposed in the media, allegedly continued to assault somebody else,” said Sack.

They had a breakthrough in the case a couple of months ago, when an international student at a Cape Town university contacted Koleinu SA with her story.

“She contacted the organisation two weeks after her assault, and Koleinu SA has been there to support her throughout. She agreed to press criminal charges,” said Sack.

It’s understood that another victim came forward this week with a similar story and has reported it to the police, bringing to five the number of known victims.

“We are heartbroken that there are other victims – this is exactly what we have been trying to prevent,” Hendler said.

Police spokesperson Frederick van Wyk reportedly said, “The alleged accused was involved in several rape and sexual assault cases that happened between 2014 and 2022 at his surf shop school in Hermanus. According to reports, the victims were all females from foreign countries who attended his surf school at different times and alleged that the accused made them drunk and raped them at his place.”

Since the case was opened, it has taken a relatively short time for the arrest to take place, which Hendler said was encouraging.

Koleinu SA implores all victims of abuse in the community to lay charges formally with a statutory body or the police as this is the only way to secure justice.

“People come to us with their story, but are unwilling to take it further with an actual signed statement with a statutory body. By reporting through the correct channels, a whole basket of services is opened and available, which will get the person or family the help they need,” she said.

“As far as our community goes, we lag far behind when it comes to reporting crimes of this nature. Our community has a shocking track record on reporting.

“In this particular case, the victims haven’t been hamstrung by a community passing judgement on them. They have faced none of the added obstacles that victims sometimes experience in the community such as being wrongfully judged. The trauma that victims experience when they aren’t believed can be much worse than the assault itself, and profoundly damaging.”

Hendler said it made “absolutely no sense” given the number of sexual-abuse cases being reported to Koleinu SA on a weekly basis that there was no reporting.

“We are so frustrated by this, especially when we look at how this Hermanus case is swiftly progressing,” said Hendler.

“With the right support and the right channelling of cases to the right people, there can be effective handling of cases to a successful prosecution and final outcome,” she said.

It’s hoped the other victims in the Hermanus case will be added as co-complainants.

One of the victims said this week, “It’s so important that organisations like Koleinu SA exist. I’m thankful that there are people like the kind-hearted Wendy and Rozanne, who dedicate a huge part of their free time to help others fight for justice and give their energy to clear situations that are often just an example of structural societal problems. I always felt understood and taken seriously in my situation, they never put pressure on us in any way, and checked whether there was agreement on our side in providing information or how to move on with the next steps. Koleinu SA has provided huge support in a very careful way, and I would encourage any victim of abuse to contact it.”

Halkett has vehemently denied all charges against him. He hasn’t responded to calls for comment.

The case is still under investigation. Halkett is due back in court on 13 July.

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