Open letter to Minister Mthetwa and National Commissioner Phiyega

20 September 2013

Dear Minister Mthetwa and National Commissioner Phiyega

Open letter regarding the SAPS’ statistics for rape and domestic violence

The Shukumisa campaign is a national coalition of 30 organisations working to combat sexual violence in one form or another. We take great interest in the SAPS crime statistics because of their implications for our various members’ counselling and prevention programmes, as well as the questions they raise needing further research. But every year when the police release their crime statistics we engage in the same sterile debates around how well or how badly the police have fared in preventing crime. These are the wrong questions. Firstly, it is largely beyond the police’s power to prevent sexual offences and domestic violence and secondly, reporting rates tell us nothing about the police’s ability to arrest suspects, or conduct investigations that ensure matters go to trial. We urge the SAPS to rethink both the nature of the information being collected, as well as its interpretation so that more effective strategies in responding to these crimes can be developed. In this letter we first highlight common problems with the interpretation of the statistics and then make suggestions around the sort of statistics that would be more helpful.

The number of sexual crimes reported to the police is not an accurate reflection of the actual number of sexual crimes taking place. Rape is one of the most under-reported crimes in South Africa. Data collected in 1997 for the national South African Demographic and Health Survey found that only one in nine women who had been raped had reported the matter to the police. More recent interviews conducted in Gauteng in 2010 by Gender Links and the Medical Research Council found that one quarter of women in the study had been raped in the course of their lifetimes while almost one in 12 women had been raped in 2009. But only one in 13 women raped by a non-partner reported the matter, while only one in 25 of women raped by their partners reported this to the police. Yet the SAPS’ latest figures for sexual offences showed that the rate of reported sexual offences declined by 45.3% in Gauteng between 2003/04 and 2012/13. This decline is not an indication that rape is being reduced. It is an alarming indicator that women are remaining silent about the sexual violence they experience.

Mpumalanga provides another example of potentially significant under-reporting. Research tracking all 252 rapes reported between 2005 to 2007 at one rural police station found that more than half were reported by girls under the age of 18. This is a most unusual finding that contradicts both national and international trends showing the majority of rapes to be reported by adult women. Either the researchers stumbled upon a world exception, or produced findings skewed by adult women’s non-reporting. Given that only one of the 120 rapes reported by adult women during this three year period resulted in a conviction, we suspect that most adult women voted not to report to the police. If this is the case, then clearly the police’s investigative capabilities and the courts’ performance are having an effect on reporting rates. We need to understand this relationship better to address barriers to reporting.

In conclusion, a decline in the figures might be pointing to a loss of confidence in the criminal justice system, rather than a reduction in the number of sexual crimes taking place. On this basis we can learn from those provinces which have seen an increase in the number of rapes reported during the last ten years. These include Limpopo (an increase of 40.9%), North West province (increase of 15.1%), Free State (19.8% increase) and the Eastern Cape (21.8% increase).

Tracking these increases is essential to planning services. Judy Silwana of the Anglican Church’s department of Social Welfare, for example, points out that Keiskammahoek in the Eastern Cape has only two police vehicles available to service an area covering 39 rural villages. This means that detectives in the area have only one car at their disposal, with implications for the speed and scope of their investigations.

A decline in the number of assaults reported to the police is not good news about domestic violence. Like rape, domestic violence is significantly under-reported. Returning to the Gauteng study mentioned earlier: Between April 2008 and March 2009, a total of 12 093 women reported an assault by an intimate partner to the police in Gauteng. This represents 0.3% of the adult female population of Gauteng. By contrast, during the same time period 18.1% of women in the province reported an experience of violence at the hands of intimate male partners to researchers. As with sexual crimes, only a fraction of domestic violence is coming to the police’s attention; a decline in numbers is not to be celebrated.

The statistics we’d like to see: In future we’d like to see less emphasis on whether the crime statistics show the police to be reducing rape and domestic violence and more focus on the kinds of numbers that enable thoughtful planning for services and prevention. This includes figures for the number of sexual crimes against lesbians reported to the police, as well as how many men are reporting experiences of rape. Age disaggregated data is also important. For example, there has been an outcry recently about the rape of elderly women – do the police have data around the extent of such rapes, as well as where they are taking place? Additionally, there are 59 different types of crimes that can be classified as sexual offences. The police need to start providing figures for each of these different offences and not just one figure overall. This will help us to see how many of the new crimes introduced by the 2007 Sexual Offences Act are being used in practice (especially those committed against children and people with disabilities).

And finally, we need to discuss how the police collect information about domestic violence. Because there is no such crime as ‘domestic violence’ these cases are recorded within other categories of crime (such as murder, rape, or assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm). A method needs to be figured out to abstract and collate this data.
We hope that you will consider meeting with us to discuss these and other suggestions further.

Yours sincerely

The Shukumisa Campaign:
Adapt, Childline SA, Community Law Centre Parliamentary Participation Unit, eMPathy trust Southern Africa, FAMSA Pietermaritzburg, Gender Health and Justice Research Unit (GHJRU), Greater Rape Intervention Project (GRIP), Justice and Women (JAW), Legal Resources Centre, Lethabong Legal Advice Centre, Lifeline/Rape Crisis Pietermaritzburg, Limpopo Legal Advice Centre, Masimanyane Women’s Support Centre, Mosaic, Nisaa Women’s Support Centre, Peddie Women’s Support Centre, People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA), Project Empower, RAPCAN, Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, Remmoho, Teddy Bear Clinic, Sexual Assault Clinic, Sonke Gender Justice Network, Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT), Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Programme, Thusanang Advice Centre, Tipfuxeni Community Counselling Centre, Triangle Project, Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre, Western Cape Network on Violence Against Women, Women on Farms Project, Women’s Legal Centre.

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