Sex offence don't tell the real story

2017-10-01 06:00
Statistician-General Pali Lehohla (GCIS)

Statistician-General Pali Lehohla (GCIS)

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A decrease in sexual offences recorded in last year’s national crime statistics and a 117% increase in 2016/17 do not paint an accurate picture of this scourge ravaging the country.

Gender rights activist Fiona Nicholson and researcher Lisa Vetten believe that the number reported by Stats SA would multiply if all sexual offences were reported to police.

National crime statistics from the 2015/16 financial year show a 3.2% decline in sexual offences cases (over 51 000 compared with 53 600 in the 2014/15 financial year).

Nicholson, who runs the Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Programme in northern Limpopo, believes the 117% rise in sex offences recorded in the Stats SA survey, and which came from among a sample of 30 000 households, was just the tip of the iceberg.

She believes if just a few more victims reported such crimes, statistics would “shoot through the roof”. Sex offences remained the “most underreported crime” in the country, she said.

“What I find bizarre is that everyone knows the problem of underreporting, but they still get their knickers in a twist when the stats go up, assuming that this reflects incidents, instead of just reports,” Nicholson said.

“It is generally accepted that only one in nine rapes is reported to the police. Although the percentages are argued about, no one denies that the vast majority of rapes are not reported.”

Asked if she was expecting sexual offences to decline at any point, she said: “Not in my lifetime. There is not enough political will to address it holistically.”

Nicholson said it was worrying that for every 1 000 women raped, only 110 would report and open a case. Out of those 110 cases opened, between three and seven would reach court.

Vetten said there was nothing to celebrate when crime statistics indicated that sexual offences had decreased.

What it meant was that there was less reporting of such crimes, which was a big concern, and not that the number of sex crimes had decreased.

In her 2014 policy briefing document for the Institute for Security Studies on rape and other forms of sexual violence in South Africa, Vetten cited findings from interviews conducted in Gauteng in 2010 by Gender Links and the SA Medical Research Council.

According to these, only one in 13 women raped by a non-partner reported the matter, while a scant one in 25 women raped by their partners reported this to police.

“The same study also found that 25.3% of women interviewed had experienced sexual violence in their lifetimes, while 37.4% of men admitted to having perpetrated such violence,” she wrote.

Read more on:    stats sa  |  crime  |  sex abuse

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