16 Days of deep discontent

2015-11-29 15:00

The 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign was first introduced in SA by women’s organisations in 1993, with government taking up the project in 1997. In 2015, what has changed? We know that violence against women and children is a huge and persistent problem in our country. But who cares for those victims?

Department of justice gets 6/10

The department of justice and constitutional development has made the most progress in improving services to rape survivors over the past year. We give the department a score of 6/10.

This year, the department issued draft regulations regarding sexual offences courts. These are important because ­they detail how criminal justice personnel should treat rape survivors and their families, and ­they set out the sort of facilities and equipment that should be available at courts to ensure that rape survivors give their best evidence and feel safe in court.

The regulations generally show that the justice department has taken seriously the prior recommendations by civil society organisations about how best to make the courts function. They also demonstrate a commitment to consultation by publishing the draft regulations for further comment – although we wait to see the effect of this consultation on the final regulations.

The regulations will also potentially provide a set of benchmarks against which to measure the department’s progress.

In 2013, the Constitutional Court declared parts of sections 15 and 16 of the Sexual Offences Act unconstitutional on the grounds that they violated the best interests of children because it made it possible to prosecute children between the ages of 12 and 15 for engaging in consensual sexual activity. In practice, the provisions led to the prosecution of pregnant girls.

The amended provisions uphold the spirit of the Constitution and take a sensible approach to a highly controversial issue. While consensual sexual activity between those aged 12 to 15 years has been decriminalised, it remains a crime for a person over 18 to engage in any sexual activity, irrespective of consent, with adolescents under the age of 16.

These provisions recognise that experimentation is a normal part of adolescent sexual development, while providing protection for young people from adults. Importantly, they remove legal barriers to communication and health services for adolescents. In terms of the old provision, health workers were required to inform the police about the consensual sexual activity of underage adolescents.

The parliamentary portfolio committee on justice and constitutional development led a robust public participation process on this controversial issue and succeeded in building support across political parties and civil society stakeholders.

In August, the justice department tried to amend the Sexual Offences Act, which would have reduced the extent to which government departments are legally obliged to report on their implementation of law and policy applicable to sexual offences. After a submission to Parliament, and presentations opposing the amendment, the department withdrew it.

Police get 4/10

  • F

They also tell us who does not enjoy access to justice – like disabled people – and patterns and trends in violence. They can also help us identify programmes and interventions that are (in)effective in preventing it.

Because there are no recent national studies of violence against women in South Africa, we must rely on the police’s annual crime statistics.

Police crime statistics on sexual offences 0/10

Survey after survey shows that most women do not report their rapes to the police. In the 1998 South African demographic and health survey, one in seven women did not want to report their rapes to police.

Research in Gauteng found that one in 12 women in the province had been raped in 2009, but that only one in 13 women raped by a non-partner reported it, and that one in 25 women raped by their partners reported it.

A Western Cape study found that only 2% of women who were raped had reported it to police.

Stats SA is the first to acknowledge that its victims of crime survey does not accurately capture the full extent of rape in South Africa. But their surveys also point to the possibility that fewer women are coming forward.

In 2012, 94% of rape survivors interviewed said they had reported their case, but in 2013/14 this dropped to 72%.

So when the SAPS provides figures for sexual offences every year, these numbers refer only to reported sexual offences. So, it is inaccurate for the police to conclude that a drop in the number of reported rapes is evidence of a real reduction in sexual offences. This point has been made every year but, unfortunately, the SAPS has never acknowledged the problem and adjusted its approach accordingly.

What would be key is a policy shift that no longer rewards the SAPS for reducing reports of sexual offences, but emphasises the quality of care and services provided to rape survivors and their families. Right now, it is rewarded for reducing reports of sexual offences. In future, it needs to be rewarded for providing quality care.

The 2007 Sexual Offences and Related Matters Amendment Act contains more than 25 different crimes, ranging from rape to distributing pornography involving people with intellectual disabilities. In future, the SAPS should provide us with a breakdown of the number of crimes reported for each category of sexual offence.

Vetten is part of the Shukumisa Campaign, which consists of 48 member organisations and four individual members across SA who work towards combating sexual violence

Read more on:    16 days of activism

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