Police ignore rape of girl, 3, for four days
● It took her four days and five attempts to report the rape of her three-year-old daughter to the police. When officers finally arrived at her home, they brought the alleged rapist with them to demand why she was “spreading rumours” about him — and they then left him there.
The distraught Khayelitsha, Cape Town, mother opened up to the Sunday Times about her hell of last weekend when she was sent from one police station to another in her desperate attempt to get officers to take her seriously. It was only after her elder daughter vented her family’s frustration on social media, prompting a public outcry, that the police acted.
The woman’s story about the police’s callous indifference comes in the week that SA’s dismal crime statistics were released in parliament. Police minister Bheki Cele revealed that sexual offences had risen the most of all categories of serious crime — by 4.6%. There were 52,420 sexual assaults in the year ended March, 2,312 more than the previous year. Of those, 24,387 sexual offences involved children — an increase of 3.8%, or 899 cases.
The police arrested the 43-year-old suspect on Monday, after the little girl had been raped on Friday afternoon. And the mother’s ordeal — which she said had doubled her trauma — is now being investigated by the management of Harare police station in Khayelitsha after an inquiry by the Sunday Times.
While the funeral of slain 19-year-old University of Cape Town student Uyinene Mrwetyana was being broadcast live last Saturday, the Cape Town mother was battling to report what had happened to her daughter. Mrwetyana was raped and murdered in a Cape Town post office.
Soon after her daughter came home from crèche on Friday, she went to play with a friend, who lives in the same row of shacks in the Enkanini informal settlement. “About 35 minutes later, I decided to go to my aunt. I told [the girl] and she got excited, but she said, ‘I can’t walk mom, my private part is painful’, and she pointed at herself.
“She said [her friend’s father] put her friend on top of himself, and after that he ‘put me on top of him’. I took her into my house and put her on top of the bed and examined her. As soon as I took off her clothes, it was clear that she had been raped.
“I thought I was dreaming. I took her to the dining area and put her on the sofa and examined her again and I realised that it’s true.”
The woman said she returned to the child’s crèche and the teachers confirmed her observations. She then took her to the Khayelitsha District Hospital, where a doctor tried to call the police, to no avail.
“A social worker advised me not to take the child home because the environment might traumatise her again. She dropped me off at my aunt’s place. I asked the social worker if I should wait for the hospital to call the detectives or must I go and open a case myself. She said I must go myself to the police station because police do not act quickly if you are not in front of them.”
The following morning she took a taxi to Harare police station. “There was one police officer behind the counter,” the mother said. “She said, ‘no, we don’t take such sensitive cases here, go to Khayelitsha police station. That is where such cases are opened’.”
The mother then took a taxi to Site B, on the other side of Khayelitsha, where an officer told her to return to Harare.
“He called a lady called Mrs Roy. She came and asked me to start all over again. She told me to go to Harare, but I insisted on being helped there,” she said.
“She went out and when she came back she told me that the detective who deals with rape cases was not available. She said they did not know when he would come back.”
Mrs Roy gave the woman her cellphone number and asked her to SMS her address, which she would pass on to the detective. The mother said she sent the SMS as soon as she arrived at her aunt’s home, and received no response. But the worst was yet to come.
“On Sunday I was told that police were looking for me and I was relieved, thinking that they want me to show them the suspect. But I was surprised to find him inside the van,” the mother told the Sunday Times.
“He said I was spreading rumours that he had raped my child. The police asked me what happened. After listening to me, a female officer told the man that they would not open a case against me and they dropped him and drove off.”
But things began to change after her 21-year-old daughter’s Facebook post.
“A number of people called us afterwards, including people who identified themselves as detectives in Nyanga, and said they wanted to help.”
The mother returned to Khayelitsha police station on Monday and saw an officer she knew only as Mr Nash. He sent her back home and promised to call her the following day when a detective would be available to help her.
Then community activist Naniwe Dantjies intervened. She took the mother back to Harare police station and confronted the officer who had sent the woman away two days earlier. Finally, the mother’s statement was taken.
The woman’s older daughter, who turned to Facebook for help, said: “I have no hope that rape and the killing of women will ever end in SA. The police’s attitude towards my little sister’s case is testimony to this. One wonders how many other cases are ignored. Our families have to go on social media for police to take our cases seriously, otherwise they won’t help us. They are only interested in protecting their reputation.”
Dantjies said there were many rape victims in Khayelitsha whose cases were never solved, and all they had were case numbers.
“That is why people commit suicide. They can’t live with people who raped them as if nothing happened,” she said.
Western Cape police spokesperson Lt Col Andrè Traut said the suspect appeared in the Khayelitsha magistrate’s court on Friday on a charge of rape. “He was subsequently released until our investigation has reached a more advanced stage,” he said.
“Gender-based violence and crimes committed against children are top priority for the Western Cape police and it is against our policy to refer a complaint or a victim to another police station to report an incident. The matter detailed in your inquiry is currently under investigation by the management of Harare police station.”
Khayelitsha police station commander Brig Mkhuseli Nkwitshi said he was not aware of the woman’s ordeal.
“My police station is just housing the FCS [family violence, child protection and sexual offences] unit,” he said.
“But this part of [the officer] who did not open the case is something that I will have to investigate because I was not informed of that, I am hearing for the first time.”
Axolile Notywala, secretary of the Social Justice Coalition, said many rape victims were turned away at police stations. Notywala said this was because of police leadership’s failure to implement the 2014 recommendations of the commission of inquiry which probed police inefficiencies in Khayelitsha.
“Most of the commission’s recommendations are yet to be implemented,” said Notywala. “Only Khayelitsha police station has an FCS unit, and that is a problem. But all those challenges are addressed by the commission’s recommendations, including a lack of resources.”
A mother comforts her three-year-old daughter, who is clutching her teddy bear, after repeatedly trying to report the girl’s rape at police stations in Cape Town last weekend.