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The Frankel Eight effectively changed the law

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NICOLA MILTZ

He was no ordinary villain: super rich, super powerful, much loved and respected. He was the late Sidney Frankel, who lent his name to a landmark court ruling which has been hailed as a victory for all victims of sexual abuse.

This grisly saga involved a top Jewish businessman, a host of Jewish kids, some from disadvantaged backgrounds and a string of other kids, along the way. Thanks to eight brave men and women, sexual abuse cases are no longer limited to a 20-year cut-off date. This is ground-breaking legal territory.

For the Frankel Eight – his alleged victims – it still remains a horror show with a glimmer of light at the end of a very dark and twisted tunnel.

“I had dreams. I wanted to be someone,” said one of his victims, Marinda Smith, this week from her Boksburg flat. “I’m thrilled about the change in the law, but that man ruined my life. I’m a broken woman. If he had killed me it would have been better.”

A lifetime of substance abuse, failed relationships and making “all the wrong choices”, she says she is only now starting to pick up the pieces. 

She and the other seven victims who took on Frankel, laid bare their dirtiest laundry and watched as it all publicly unfolded, while their every accusation was scrutinised and dissected. 

They knew they had a strong case, but they knew too that it was going to be a monumental undertaking requiring them to display fortitude and courage.

In the South Gauteng High Court this week, acting Judge Claire Hartford, ruled that the prescription period for sexual offences set out in the Criminal Procedures Act, is invalid and that there should no longer be time limits for prosecuting these serious crimes.

“The law must encourage the prosecution of these nefarious offences, which are a cancer in South African society, and must support victims in coming forward, no matter how late in the day,” read the judgement.

An elated Ian Levitt, attorney for the Frankel Eight said: “My clients are the real heroes here. I feel ecstatic. When the plaintiffs first came to see me, the odds of winning their case seemed insurmountable.

“I never doubted a positive outcome, but it was a real David and Goliath scenario – a billionaire philanthropist versus a group of unknown people with no money coming up against the best legal team money can buy.”

There is huge comfort in knowing that his “coming out” will make an enormous difference in the lives of all future child abuse victims. But Shane Rothquel is still unsettled.

“I knew that we had a super strong case, so I was not at all surprised that the judgement came down in our favour. I do note with concern, though, that government itself has been silent on the issue. 

“The judgement doesn’t bring me closure. This is only the beginning. I am looking forward to the close of the civil matter… I want to be able to move forward positively through my life.”

He wants his story to “help others by showing that survival is possible and not only survival, but that you can make a good life despite the perverted paedophilic actions of one human being”. 

For brother and sister Paul Diamond and Nicole Levenstein, the judgement is a victory and vindication. Scarred by their shared past but comforted by their journey of healing and recovery, they agree there are huge positives. 

“An interesting narrative has emerged following our coming out. All of us have experienced major life changes. I am now married, George has had a child, and other plaintiffs have experienced some life altering shifts,” said Paul.

“The court outcome is so positive for the public, including women and children, but for all of us.

“The message is clear: no amount of power or money will give refuge to this kind of abuse on any level, no position of authority will allow the likes of Frankel, the opportunity to get away with their crimes again.”

 Said his sister Nicole: “It takes time to process the coming full circle and knowing we got the result we did for all of South Africans in the future. Our hard work and tenacity has paid off. This definitely brings closure; it has all been worthwhile.”

The case was complicated and lengthy. But according to Levitt, the legal minds behind the Frankel Eight were “superb”.

“We never had any doubt, but we knew we were fighting a hard war that would be tough, but we would succeed in the end. “

Organisations like The Teddy Bear Clinic, Centre for Applied Legal Studies and Women and Men Against Child Abuse have welcomed the judgement.

“This judgement acknowledges the deep trauma that sexual violence of any kind may have on victims and the court has demonstrated its understanding that the process of disclosure is in itself painful, complicated, lengthy and takes great bravery,” said clinical director of the Teddy Bear Clinic, Shaheda Omar.

Director of Women and Men Against Child Abuse, Miranda Jordan-Friedmann said: “It may take decades for survivors to be in an emotionally strong enough position to confront their abusers, who, in cases of late disclosure, have more often than not until now not been held accountable in a criminal court for their heinous crimes.”

The civil case is still proceeding against the estate of Frankel who died in April and in all likelihood will be heard next year.

“Money can never take away the damage, but the judgement will be vindication enough. What they really wanted was for Frankel to be prosecuted in a criminal court. But if this judgement saves one child from future abuse, because a perpetrator knows he will be chased down by the law, then it would all have been worth it,” said Levitt.

The Frankel Eight are Paul Diamond; Shane Rothquel; Marinda Smith; Nicole Levenstein; George and Katherine Rosenberg; Daniela McNally; and Lisa Wegner.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Cheryl Leib

    Jun 22, 2017 at 2:10 pm

    ‘So brave! There cannot be enough said for the strength shown by the Frankel 8. That this courage resulted in a change to a prescription which should never have been in place is fantastic and life changing for many.’

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