There was quite an uproar following the recent release of South Africa’s national crime statistics— considered the worst figures in the ten years. However, lost in these heated debates is the rampant sexual violence that women face every day of their lives. If we do not, at the very least halve gender-based violence (GBV), we will certainly be fighting a losing battle against crime in this country.

Gender Links and partner organisations conducted Violence Against Women (VAW) baseline studies in four provinces of South Africa. The findings are highly disturbing, especially considering South Africa has one of the most progressive constitutions on gender equality in the world.

The studies found that 77% of women in Limpopo, 51% in Gauteng; 45% in Western Cape and 36% in KwaZulu Natal have experienced different forms of GBV during their lifetime. A higher proportion of men in Gauteng (76%) and KwaZulu Natal (41%) admitted to perpetrating violence against women in their lifetime. A lower proportion of men, compared to the proportion of women reporting GBV said they perpetrated GBV in Limpopo (48%) and Western Cape (35%).

The studies also reveal an awareness gap about protective laws such as the Domestic Violence Act, the Sexual Offences Act and current VAW prevention campaigns.

The national crime statistics recently released by the South African Police Service (SAPS), paint a picture that is both misleading and disturbing. According to their statistics, reports of sexual offences have decreased by a mere 0.4% from the previous year, and in the last nine years have declined by more than 10%. However, we have to ask whether this is a true reflection of the actual number of sexual crimes committed. Regrettably, the answer is no!

In fact, this marginal decline of reported sexual offences is also a matter of concern, pointing to an on-going pattern of under-reporting and systemic problems within SAPS. In South Africa, it is estimated that one in four women are raped during their lifetime; one in every 13 women report rape to the police and only one in 12 cases result in a successful conviction.  

Furthermore, when one considers the figures found in the VAW baseline studies, SAPS’ statistics are clearly unreliable. In Gauteng for example, of the women interviewed only 12% said they experienced non-partner rape in their lifetime, whilst more than twice as many men— 31%, said they had perpetrated rape. Eighteen percent of women said they experienced intimate-partner sexual violence, while about 19% men admitted to perpetrating this violence.

The most predominant form of GBV in the four provinces occurs within intimate-partner relationships. Fifty-one percent of partnered women in Gauteng, 51% in Limpopo, 44% in Western Cape and 29% in KwaZulu Natal reported experiencing intimate-partner violence (IPV) in their lifetime.

There is persistent misconstruction of IPV and domestic violence as a “family” concern rather than a police matter. The pressure from within the family not to report these crimes, as well as fear of intimidation and further violence felt by the survivor, family and community members worsens the culture of silence around domestic violence.

Not only do police have inadequate training and facilities to deal with sexual offences, but also it is widely known that many officers subject survivors to secondary violence and are even in some cases the perpetrators of these crimes.

Although, there has been some progress in developing a sensitive and supportive environment for survivors at police stations, SAPS needs to do much more to regain the trust and faith of women and community members.

Research shows that there is a lack of co-ordination and clear referral systems for GBV survivors. Thus, they fail to benefit from police services, health care, counselling and the justice system.

There is a high degree of non-compliance with the Domestic Violence Act because officers do not fully understand how to use it. Copies of the Act are often unavailable at police stations and non-compliance is seldom reported and inadequately addressed.

Gaps also remain in police data relating to domestic violence. SAPS does not accurately categorise different forms of violence such as rape, assault, femicide and sex work. Not enough data specifies the relationship between the perpetrator and the victim, which would help in providing statistics that are more accurate. It is also unclear whether police capture incidents of domestic violence perpetrated outside of the home.

All these shortfalls continue to fail the women of this country, rendering survivors silent, perpetuating misleading crime statistics and leaving GBV unchecked.

The government and SAPS need to effectively understand and implement the laws in place.
However, it is also up to us as individuals and communities to ensure we lead by example constantly engaging with family, friends and the community to change mind-sets, create awareness about GBV and break the spiral of silence that helps fuel violence.

We should all get involved in our local Community Police Forums to help the police to move in the right direction for the sake of a safe, supportive and zero tolerant society that respects women and their rights.

Keith Peacock is the chairperson of the Yeoville Community Police Forum. This article is part of the Gender Links News Service, special series on 16 Days of Activism, providing fresh views on everyday news. Follow them on Twitter and like on Facebook

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