PO­LICE IN­DIF­FER­ENCE: THE SEC­OND AS­SAULT

Daily News - - FRONT PAGE - Char­lene works for the AIDS Foun­da­tion of South Africa CHAR­LENE DON­ALD

NOVEM­BER 25 marks the start of the 16 Days of Ac­tivism to End Gen­der-Based Vi­o­lence. It is the In­ter­na­tional Day for the Elim­i­na­tion of Vi­o­lence Against Women. The po­lice of­fi­cers of the City of Cape Town did not re­ceive this memo.

Only two hours into this land­mark day, I was out with my team­mates cel­e­brat­ing our suc­cess in the 202km Corona­tion Dou­ble Cen­tury Cy­cle Race. An al­ter­ca­tion in­side a bar had erupted, but hav­ing seen blue lights pa­trolling the area, I felt cer­tain that po­lice would in­ter­vene in what was at that point an ar­gu­ment be­tween two men.

How­ever, de­spite the best ef­forts of my team­mates to de-es­ca­late the sit­u­a­tion, I had the con­tents of a bot­tle thrown in my face. “I’m not fight­ing with you,” I said. My hair was pulled. I ig­nored it. An of­fi­cer (name with­held) shouted from a dis­tance. I walked away. I felt a blow strike the side of my head and heard the shat­tered glass fall around my feet. The of­fi­cer asked if I was okay as blood ran down my face. My team­mates were un­der­stand­ably an­gry, but I re­as­sured them that the po­lice would in­ter­vene.

How­ever, the of­fi­cer and his col­leagues were un­moved. Con­fused by their in­er­tia, I asked why they weren’t do­ing any­thing de­spite be­ing eye-wit­nesses. The of­fi­cer told me not to make him the guilty one. When I asked him to de­tain the woman who as­saulted me and take us to the po­lice station to open a case, a more se­nior woman of­fi­cer (name with­held) ap­proached me and asked, “Are you sure you want to open a case? Do you know her? Have you been drinking?” It was un­clear to me how my two beers were rel­e­vant to the as­sault she’d wit­nessed.

De­spite the per­pe­tra­tor proudly ad­mit­ting to the as­sault, the po­lice woman’s at­tempts to dis­suade me con­tin­ued at the po­lice station.

She asked me again if I had been drinking, ex­plain­ing she couldn’t open a case un­less I was of sound mind. She sug­gested I sleep on it and come back in the morn­ing. I ex­plained that I was trav­el­ling home to Dur­ban in the morn­ing and sug­gested she breathal­yse me to de­ter­mine if I was in­tox­i­cated. Upon hear­ing I wasn’t a Cape Town res­i­dent, she sug­gested I open a case in Dur­ban. My voice be­gan to shake and I felt tears of frus­tra­tion st­ing my eyes, as the ma­chin­ery of state ground me down. I dug deep and in­sisted. Fi­nally she led me to her man­ager, a cap­tain (name with­held) and ex­plained the sit­u­a­tion. He barely looked up from his cell­phone, mut­ter­ing that it would be hard to make a case if I’d been drinking.

At this point, years of ac­tivism over­rode my shell­shocked state as my frus­tra­tion hard­ened to quiet rage. I clar­i­fied who I was, ex­plained what my rights were, de­fined as­sault for them and re­minded them of their duty to en­force the law. Why was I, the vic­tim of an as­sault wit­nessed by two po­lice of­fi­cers, beg­ging to have my rights up­held when the per­pe­tra­tor ad­mit­ted guilt? Ea­ger to get back to his phone, the cap­tain told the woman of­fi­cer to open a case.

I can’t help won­der how many rape sur­vivors have been forced to beg for their rights in this po­lice station? How many hate crimes vic­tims were met with this same in­dif­fer­ence? How many sur­vivors just give up be­cause they don’t know the rel­e­vant Acts or can’t quote the sec­tion of the Con­sti­tu­tion that guar­an­tees their rights?

The re­sponse of Cape Town City Po­lice was bru­tal. It left me feel­ing like my as­sault was not worth their time. I work with com­mu­ni­ties. My job is to chal­lenge in­jus­tice and pro­mote the agency of young women and girls – and I re­alised just how much work still needs to be done.

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