Editorial: Stats conceal scale of rape scourge

Studies have identified a vicious circle: abused girls are at an increased risk of revictimisation as adults, and boys' exposure to abuse boosts their chances of becoming violent adolescents and adults. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

Studies have identified a vicious circle: abused girls are at an increased risk of revictimisation as adults, and boys' exposure to abuse boosts their chances of becoming violent adolescents and adults. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

Fewer and fewer rape victims have enough faith in the police to report the crimes against them.

The latest police crime statistics, released this week, say reported cases of rape dropped by 7.4% between the 2008-2009 and 2014-2015 financial years.

But expert organisations such as the Shukumisa Campaign, which advocates against sexual violence, and the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), warn these figures “cannot be taken as an accurate measure of either the extent or trend of this crime”.

Instead, the latest figures could be pointing to victims’ increasing unwillingness to report these crimes and the police’s reluctance to encourage them to do so. Studies have shown that as few as one in 13 rapes in South Africa is reported to the police.

Results of the National Victims of Crime Survey found that the proportion of victims who report their rapes to the police decreased by 21% between 2011 and 2014. This is shockingly alarming.

  In this week’s edition we investigate child rapes in Diepsloot – sadly, they’re rife. In almost every single child rape case we encountered, the police failed to arrest the perpetrator – even in cases where both the name and address of the alleged offender was provided to them.

Diepsloot is one of the many communities across the country that have lost faith in the police, resulting in the sporadic vigilante killing of suspects. Rape counsellors say the victims in this township north of Johannesburg are overwhelmingly convinced that it’s no longer worth reporting the crimes.

In this regard, there is an “urgent need in how police performance is measured”, the ISS says. Performance targets require the police to cut violent crime by between 4% and 7% annually. The ISS says this has created a profound disincentive for police to record reported violent crimes.

But as far as the spiking of rape in South Africa is concerned, the police are not the only culprits.

We live in a “fatherless society”. Only 36.4% of South African children live with both parents. Research has repeatedly shown that children raised in single-parent homes are more likely to be abused. But this does not and must not undermine the fantastic work done by single mothers who have raised and nurtured their children into better adults.

Studies have identified a vicious circle: abused girls are at an increased risk of revictimisation as adults, and boys’ exposure to abuse boosts their chances of becoming violent adolescents and adults.

This year, a University of Cape Town study found that, by the time South African children are between 15 and 17 years of age, one in five of them will have experienced sexual abuse. The social and psychological impact of this on our society is dire, especially for a country already besieged by violent crime. Unless we tackle this scourge, we will regret it.

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