South Africa

OP-ED: Rape, Unresolved – Crime Stats highlight urgent need to address gender-based violence

The latest crime statistics show a slight – very slight – increase in reported sexual offences. What do we need to see in order to begin addressing gender-based violence in South Africa?

On Tuesday, the South African Police Service briefed the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Police on crime statistics and showed a 0.9% increase in the reporting of sexual offences.

The Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust recorded the patterns of reporting at three local Thuthuzela Care Centres that it recorded in Cape Town where it offers 24-hour support to rape survivors coming to public health facilities for health services and to be examined by a district surgeon in the immediate aftermath of rape.
  • In 2014 there were 2,628 cases.

  • In 2015 there were 3,153 cases, a 20% increase.

  • In 2016 there were 3,210 cases, a 2% increase.

  • In 2017 there were 3,425 cases, a 6% increase.

This represents a significantly higher increase in reporting patterns than that presented by the police.

To find out what some of the reasons for this might be, Rape Crisis looked at a list of complaints about the police provided by rape survivors that use our services. These were some of the complaints:

  • I reported the case, and when I went back to the police station to find out what was happening with my case they told me the docket was lost. The case never moved anywhere.”

  • I waited for four hours for at the police station for assistance.”

  • After reporting the rape at the police station, no one took me for the medical check-up and forensic examination so the case could not be investigated.”

  • I reported many incidents of the perpetrator following me and harassing me to the investigating officer in my case but the investigating officer did not take action.”

  • The investigating officer did not follow up on the case, and he did not come to see me or call me. When my counsellor at Rape Crisis called the FCS Unit offices, they told her they don’t have an investigating officer of that name in their unit.”

  • The investigating officer was very rude to me, telling me that he did not want to be disturbed while sleeping or while he was having a good time with his family. Then when I saw the perpetrator I was too scared to call.”

  • The investigating officer did not want to believe me because he saw my chats with the perpetrator on my phone and he said that it is not rape because we had been dating.”

  • When I went to police station I was told that my investigating officer has a lot of other cases, and so she is not available.”

  • There were three different investigating officers on my case. The third one did not know me and although she promised to call me she never did and when I called her to remind her, she said she does not know me and cannot help me.”

  • The police didn’t want to open a case because I didn’t know the address of the perpetrator.”

  • The investigating officer has told me on two occasions that I was lying about the rape. He asked me, ‘Are you sure you didn’t want to have sex with these three men?’”

  • I got tired of making contact with the investigating officer. The perpetrator, who is known to me, still hasn’t been arrested.”

In her book Rape Unresolved: Policing sexual offences in South Africa, Professor Dee Smythe from the University of Cape Town says prosecutors have an important role to play in providing guidance to the investigating officer in a rape case and this function contributes directly to successful case outcomes, prosecution and conviction rates. For this reason we believe that government must make every effort to continue to roll out specialised sexual offences courts, which should be supported by the South African Police Service’s specialised Family Violence, Child Abuse and Sexual Offences Units (FCS Units) and Thuthuzela Care Centres.

There are several centres of excellence in the country where these three functions work well together to support local police stations and government should strive to maintain these. There are many other areas with high rates of sexual offences where these systems are incomplete or non-existent and these gaps should be addressed by an up-to-date rollout plan. In rural areas where these systems might not be suitable, alternative models should be found.

It seems that if survivors have access to Thuthuzela Care Centres to report rape, the statistics will go up significantly. This may in fact be what we need to see in order to begin to address gender-based violence in South Africa. DM See previous Op-Ed: Police Crime Stats: do they reflect the real reporting behaviour of victims Alison Tilley is head of advocacy and special projects at the Open Democracy Advice Centre. Kathleen Dey is head of Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust.

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