Rape and jus­tice: Is there any?

Just 340 guilty ver­dicts from 3 952 rape cases: a new study shows the dread­ful re­al­ity of how the sys­tem is fail­ing vic­tims of this ‘pri­or­ity crime’

Mail & Guardian - - News - Mia Malan

Arape survivor in South Africa who sum­mons up the courage to re­port the crime to the po­lice has less than a one in 10 chance of see­ing the per­pe­tra­tor con­victed. To be pre­cise: in only 8.6% of such cases will there be a guilty ver­dict.

About half the time, a con­sta­ble, the most ju­nior rank in the po­lice, who might not even have com­pleted high school, will han­dle the case — with­out proper su­per­vi­sion.

Although the in­ves­ti­gat­ing of­fi­cer is re­quired to visit the crime scene, be­cause the ev­i­dence gath­ered there would sig­nif­i­cantly in­crease the odds of a con­vic­tion, he or she will do so in a mere 53.5% of cases.

In a third of al­leged rape cases, the of­fi­cer won’t take any wit­ness state­ments.

And the more men­tally stressed the of­fi­cer is, the more likely he or she is to dis­play at­ti­tudes that men and women aren’t equal, and that men are en­ti­tled to sex on de­mand.

That’s the sce­nario rape sur­vivors faced in 2012, ac­cord­ing to a firstof-its-kind study con­ducted by the South African Med­i­cal Re­search Coun­cil, re­leased ex­clu­sively to Bhek­i­sisa on Fri­day.

There’s lit­tle ev­i­dence that cir­cum­stances have changed since then.

The study an­a­lysed about 4000 rape cases opened at al­most 200 po­lice sta­tions across the coun­try and fol­lowed their progress (or lack thereof) through the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem. The re­search, which warns that the sys­tem is “highly in­ef­fi­cient” and re­quires “a ma­jor over­haul”, is the first na­tion­ally rep­re­sen­ta­tive study in this re­gard from which gen­er­al­i­sa­tions can be drawn.

Last week, Po­lice Min­is­ter Fik­ile Mbalula launched a six-point plan against gen­der-based vi­o­lence that re­quires vic­tims to be treated with “re­spect and dig­nity” and to “proac­tively [be] pro­vided with feed­back on the progress of their cases on a con­tin­u­ous ba­sis”.

But the med­i­cal re­search coun­cil study found that, in 93% of cases, there was no in­di­ca­tion on the po­lice docket that the in­ves­ti­gat­ing of­fi­cer had given the vic­tim their con­tact de­tails.

Bhek­i­sisa con­tacted the min­is­ter, as well as the head of the South African Po­lice Ser­vice’s fam­ily vi­o­lence, child pro­tec­tion and sex­ual of­fence unit, Ma­jor Gen­eral Te­bello Mosik­ili, sev­eral times for com­ment this week. Nei­ther of them re­sponded.

South Africa doesn’t have na­tional rape sta­tis­tics, but stud­ies in parts of the coun­try show that be­tween 28% and 37% of men ad­mit to hav­ing raped a woman.

The lat­est study re­vealed that 94.1% of vic­tims in rape cases re­ported to the po­lice in 2012 were fe­male and 5% male.

“About half of men who have raped do so more than once, so there’s an im­por­tant pre­ven­ta­tive el­e­ment in prose­cut­ing men who have raped. But it clearly comes at a great cost to vic­tims,” ex­plains Rachel Jewkes, one of the study’s eight re­searchers.

Some of the cases re­ported to the po­lice took two years to get to court and of­ten the of­fi­cers sent dock­ets to court with­out a sus­pect hav­ing been ar­rested or even iden­ti­fied, which en­sured that it was im­pos­si­ble for cases to go to trial.

Jewkes says: “Rape is sup­posed to be a pri­or­ity crime but when you look at the way in which it’s be­ing in­ves­ti­gated and the re­sources al­lo­cated, it’s re­ally hard to see what the pri­or­ity part of this is.

“Ob­vi­ously, the low­est-ranked of­fi­cers, who han­dle half of the cases, have the poor­est ac­cess to re­sources. They’re the least able to com­mand the power to go off and to do a wit­ness state­ment or to get a car to visit a crime scene.”

On av­er­age, in­ves­ti­gat­ing of­fi­cers in the study had to share a car with at least three other po­lice mem­bers, de­spite the pre­scribed ra­tio of two de­tec­tives a ve­hi­cle. In some cases, be­tween 20 and 28 of­fi­cers were us­ing the same car.

Re­searchers used sta­tis­ti­cal tech­niques to show that there is a di­rect link be­tween ve­hi­cle ac­cess, work stress and of­fi­cers “hold­ing less eq­ui­table and sym­pa­thetic at­ti­tudes to rape vic­tims”. Jewkes ex­plains: “Stress [which in­creased sig­nif­i­cantly when there was low ac­cess to cars] makes of­fi­cers feel they’re do­ing a bad job, that they’re not do­ing the right thing.

“That drives a self-de­vel­oped nar­ra­tive of misog­y­nis­tic at­ti­tudes to try to make sense out of their sit­u­a­tions against the back­ground of not be­ing given enough re­sources and the abil­ity to set off and do a good job. It’s then eas­ier to say: ‘It’s not worth be­ing dili­gent and hard-work­ing be­cause women will only with­draw the charges, or women lie, or women de­serve to be raped.’”

The med­i­cal re­search coun­cil study is not the first to come to such a con­clu­sion. In 2015, a United King­dom study, pub­lished in the In­ter­na­tional Jour­nal of Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Sciences, found that stressed­out po­lice of­fi­cers dis­play more no­tions of sex­ual en­ti­tle­ment and are more likely to jus­tify men’s use of vi­o­lence against women as be­ing “caused by the vic­tim”.

When the med­i­cal re­search coun­cil’s re­sults are com­pared with re­search on rape cases in Gaut­eng in 2003, it’s clear that, at least in this prov­ince, there has been no im­prove­ment be­tween 2003 and 2012 in the pro­por­tion of cases in which there was an ar­rest.

In 2003, the ar­rest rate was 50.5% and in 2012, it was 50%.

“This fail­ure to im­prove is not due to the sys­tem be­ing flooded with cases, as it has been seen against a back­drop of a mod­est over­all na­tional de­cline in the num­bers of mat­ters re­ported to the po­lice,” the re­searchers warn.

What has im­proved slightly is the con­vic­tion rate for rape. But the re­searchers cau­tion that this was not “due to greater skill of pros­e­cu­tors or bet­ter train­ing of mag­is­trates” but rather “to more rig­or­ous se­lec­tion of cases to take to trial”.

Pros­e­cu­tors ad­mit­ted to the re­search coun­cil’s in­ves­ti­ga­tors that monthly tar­gets for con­vic­tion rates, against which their per­for­mance is mea­sured, make them less likely to take on com­plex cases, par­tic­u­larly rape cases of chil­dren and dis­abled peo­ple, which take longer to pros­e­cute and are less likely to re­sult in con­vic­tion.

In 2012, pros­e­cu­tors signed per­for­mance con­tracts in which they com­mit­ted to achiev­ing a 69% con­vic­tion rate in sex­ual of­fence cases and also to fi­nal­is­ing 15 cases a month.

The tar­geted con­vic­tion rate for 2017-2018 is 67%, ac­cord­ing to the jus­tice de­part­ment’s an­nual per­for­mance plan. One pros­e­cu­tor with more than 15 years of ex­pe­ri­ence said: “It’s not worth it; I won’t do rape cases any more.”

Re­searchers main­tain that this pros­e­cu­tor’s at­ti­tude sums up a “per­va­sive sense among the spe­cial­ist pros­e­cu­tors that some­thing fun­da­men­tal about their work and its qual­ity was be­ing lost”.

Deputy Min­is­ter of Jus­tice and Con­sti­tu­tional De­vel­op­ment John Jef­fery re­sponded: “This is con­cern­ing and if it’s linked to the is­sue of tar­gets be­ing met, we need to con­sider that tar­gets should not be the only mea­sure used to eval­u­ate a pros­e­cu­tor’s per­for­mance.

“It’s some­thing I’m tak­ing up with the NPA [Na­tional Prose­cut­ing Au­thor­ity].”

The de­part­ment will hold a na­tional di­a­logue in Oc­to­ber, dur­ing which the find­ings of the re­search coun­cil’s study will be dis­cussed.

“Ob­vi­ously, the low­est-ranked of­fi­cers, who han­dle half of the cases, have the poor­est ac­cess to re­sources”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.