Rape is down? No way, say experts

2017-03-05 06:01
Students at the University of the Witwatersrand painted their bodies with phrases in protest against rape culture and sexual assault. The protest marked their solidarity with students protesting rape culture at Rhodes University. Picture: Ndileka Lujabe

Students at the University of the Witwatersrand painted their bodies with phrases in protest against rape culture and sexual assault. The protest marked their solidarity with students protesting rape culture at Rhodes University. Picture: Ndileka Lujabe

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Seipati Mojapelo* and her two housemates would have been unrecorded statistics had the Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Trust, situated in Limpopo, not helped them get their rape cases registered at their local police station.

The three women were raped by robbers who stormed into their house one night.

Neighbours were woken by their screams and called the police, who arrived, took their statements and left. Weeks went by with no word about progress on the case.

Frustrated by the silence, Mojapelo and her housemates turned to the Thohoyandou trust for help.

Tshilidzi Masikhwa, the trust’s operations manager, said the organisation, together with the three women, finally managed to register the rape cases with the police, but the rapists were never found.

Mojapelo and her housemates were assaulted towards the end of 2015, but their experience regarding the lack of police follow-up is not uncommon.

Stories like theirs are the reason gender rights activists remain sceptical about the rape and sexual offences statistics released on Friday.

These figures show a 6.5% reduction, or 2 092 fewer cases, of rape so far in 2016/17.

Northern Cape shows the biggest decrease at 14.8%, followed by Limpopo with a 12.9% decline.

While a reduction in crime statistics is usually celebrated, Fiona Nicholson, the trust’s programme director, is angered by the latest statistics.

“These figures are nothing but cr*p,” she said.

“I do not believe there has been a drop in the incidence of rape. If anything, these latest statistics show us that rape victims no longer have faith in the police and therefore see no need to report the matter to the police.”

Nicholson said there were two possible explanations behind these statistics: one was underreporting and the other was what she termed “police hiding rape cases in an effort to be rewarded for having lower rape stats”.

Masikhwa agreed. “Why else would the police not register the rape cases opened by Mojapelo and her housemates?” he asked.

Gender activist Lisa Vetten also dismissed the latest rape statistics as a distorted reflection of what was happening in society.

“The police must make a distinction between a decrease in the reporting of rape and a decrease in the incidence of rape,” she said.

“I am deeply troubled by how the police see a drop in rape statistics as an achievement, because it is more of a blemish on them.

"We know that one in nine women report rape, so if reported cases are dropping, it means that more women are choosing to suffer in silence because they have lost faith in the legal system.”

In the 2015/16 Victims of Crime Survey, released last month, Stats SA found that South Africans had generally lost faith in the police’s ability to combat and solve crimes.

Findings showed that the level of satisfaction with police declined from 64.2% in 2011 to 58.8% in 2015/16.

*Not her real name

Read more on:    crime

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