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Activists challenge sexual offences stats

Gender and child rights activists are up in arms over last month’s crime statistics, claiming that the section on sexual offences is ‘a mockery”.

‘The bottom line is that the police haven’t gotten their act together,” said Lisa Vetten, researcher and policy analyst at Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre to End Violence Against Women. ‘If we can’t get accurate information, how can we plan a response to sexual offences?”

Tshwaranang sent a letter to Parliament this week with questions about the statistics to pose to South African Police Service (SAPS) representatives appearing before the Police Portfolio Committee. One area of concern was the apparent inconsistency in the number of sexual offences reported at police stations.

According to the official statistics, some stations recorded an increase of nearly 400%, while others reported a notable decrease. ‘Such large increases cannot be explained purely by the fact that new categories of sexual offences have been introduced which did not exist in the past,” says Vetten. ‘The decreases contradict that.”

Some offences that were previously referred to as indecent assault have now been categorised as sexual offences.

Tshwaranang is also questioning the overall total of 71 500 sexual offences reported between April 2008 and March 2009, because the report only provides a detailed analysis for the final six months.

The SAPS admits that some details are lacking in the report. But assistant commissioner Nonkululeko Mbatha attributed this to ‘teething problems” generated by the ‘new and quite complex” Sexual Offences Act.

Vetten said this is no excuse. ‘They knew the Act was coming for months and they couldn’t sort themselves out,” she told the Mail & Guardian.

Meanwhile, national NGO Childline is skeptical about the SAPS’ claim that there are more male adult victims of sexual offences than children. The report lists 20 141 child victims, and 21 235 adult males. ‘This sounds like another manipulation of the statistics,” says Joan van Niekerk, Childline’s national manager for training and advocacy. ‘There’s something seriously wrong here.”

Another cause for confusion is the seventy-three cases of ‘sodomy”, which is listed as a sexual offence in the latest statistics, even though previous laws against sodomy were ruled unconstitutional in the late 1990’s.

Mbatha defends the SAPS’ decision to include sodomy by saying that the laws ‘may have been declared unconstitutional in 1999, but the transgressions could have occurred prior to that date”. But Vetten says that sodomy is still listed as a crime on the police’s crime administration system.

The SAPS statistics also identify ‘other unnatural sexual offences: that is female with female, and male with male, where there is a cooperating party”.

But when the Mail & Guardian asked Mbatha whether this implied that SAPS considers same-sex sexual activities to be a crime, she said, ‘This definitely does not refer to homosexual intercourse of any kind between consenting adults — We do not have the time to investigate into the detail of these twenty-four cases.”

Vetten says that without reliable statistics Tshwaranang and other organisations cannot monitor the impact of their work. ‘When there’s chaos and a lack of understanding,” she says, ‘it naturally lends itself to manipulation”.

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