The mental health of witnesses in the trial of pastor Timothy Omotoso could be at stake as they will be forced to relive their trauma in court for a second time, according to a psychology expert.
The trial against the man accused of human trafficking and his two co-accused Lusanda Sulani and Zukiswa Sitho got off to a shaky start yesterday, before its postponement in the Eastern Cape High Court in Port Elizabeth.
Omotoso’s defence Peter Daubermann had prepared arguments and planned to lodge an application to instruct the state to provide more particulars on the charges Omotoso faced.
State advocate Nceba Ntelwa planned to oppose the application before court adjourned.
Women’s Legal Centre practitioner Bronwyn Pithey explained that the initial trial, which took place last year, had to start afresh because Judge Mandela Makaula, who presided over the initial trial, officially recused himself.
The judge’s wife apparently had shares in the bed-and-breakfast accommodation the state witness was living in, which caused a conflict of interest. This led to Makaula recusing himself.
She said in law, the recusal of a judge would lead to the trial having to start from scratch and the court having to redo all its proceedings with a new judge. Thus all witnesses, including Cheryl Zondi, would have to testify again.
Psychologist Vanessa Barnes said this could traumatise the victims further.
She said: “In cases such as these, victims are forced to relive the trauma. This strengthens the neural pathways created when a trauma occurs and can lead to re-traumatising the victim even further.
“If the victim has developed post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD] they may already be reliving events through a dissociative process and more damage could result.”
She said the state did allow for the allocation of psychologists and social workers, and even for forensic psychologists to testify in place of a victim in some cases.
However, she said this was often a short-term intervention since there was usually an issue of lack of resources and that the much-needed therapy modality over a long period of time was not often given.
She said when the person in need was not given therapy it often led to PTSD and even the development of dissociative identity disorder (multiple personalities).
If left unresolved, she said, trauma could often lead to conditions such as insomnia, chronic pain, headaches and irritable bowel syndrome, or even more serious illnesses, particularly auto-immune disorders.
“It is vitally important that these victims have access to mental healthcare…
“However, the most important consideration should be given to not re-traumatising a victim by making them relive trauma over and over again,” she said.