Daily Maverick

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

A message for the police...Diepsloot residents gather outside the local police station to complain about the rape and murder of two toddlers on Friday, 18 October 2013. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA

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.

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:

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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