OPINION | Pockets of excellence but also gaps in our country's police stations in dealing with GBV

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There are gross inequalities, inconsistencies, and discrepancies by implementers of GBVF at police stations across the country.
There are gross inequalities, inconsistencies, and discrepancies by implementers of GBVF at police stations across the country.
Alfonso Nqunjana

The Commission for Gender Equality recently completed oversight visits to police stations across the country to check on compliance in terms of providing victim-friendly services for victims and survivors of gender-based violence. Lindiwe Ntuli-Tloubatla writes that were pockets of excellence but also areas of concern.

South African women and the girl children are under siege, and their right to freedom, safety and security remains an implausible dream. Women continue to live in fear both at home and in their communities.

It's a sad tale that South Africa is faced with profound inequalities and high levels of gender-based violence. These challenges cut across race, age, and historical background. It is well known that gender-based violence (GBV) is a scourge in South Africa, leading to President Cyril Ramaphosa declaring it a second pandemic in 2020. Prior to this declaration, a 2015 report by Tswaranang Legal Advocacy Centre (2015) in Gauteng noted that in relation to GBVF, "justice is an aspiration" but not a reality for the women of South Africa. These human atrocities have taken from women the freedom of choice, movement, and association. 

Rise of GBV in all provinces

Against this background, the Commission for Gender Equality conducted an oversight and monitoring process of South African Police Service (SAPS) police stations and Thuthuzela Care Centres (TCCs) in the nine provinces to assess the level of compliance in terms of providing victim-friendly services for victims and survivors of GBV. A total of four stations were visited in each province. 

Findings across the provinces demonstrated that GBV is rising in all provinces. The results also depicted the alarming withdrawal of cases by victims, high levels of poverty and distance from police stations and courts as hindering victims' ability to access justice.

The high level of unemployment, especially among the youth, emerged as another critical factor exposing victims to sustained GBV due to dependence on the perpetrators for livelihood.

READ | OPINION: Simryn Andhee - Murder in the market: GBV choking South Africa’s economic growth

Lack of skills development in police stations on handling GBVF cases, the turnaround time on finalisation of DNA evidence, and ballistic reports from the forensic laboratory remain a challenge for the police and affects efficiency and effectiveness in dealing with the GBVF cases. 

The Commission also evaluated the implementation of the Service Charter for Victims of Crime in South Africa, known as the Victims' Charter. The Commission seeks to establish the level of compliance by duty bearers in providing victim-friendly services in the criminal justice system. The SAPS oversight visits exposed gross inequalities, inconsistencies, and discrepancies by implementers of GBVF. The victim-friendly services (VFS) are below the expected standard, most of which are temporal structures with limited human and physical resources. 

In all provinces, it was observed that some victim-friendly rooms were poorly structured and lacked adequate resources. These challenges also compromised the safety of the victims, especially in cases where the victim had to spend a night in the facility for protection. As a result, that projected the implication that most of the victim-friendly rooms were not easily accessible, especially in the absence of the official entrusted with keeping the key for the room.

The standard explanation for locking the facility was that sometimes the staff members at the stations misused the rooms.

The overall conclusion is that there is minimal commitment towards the utilisation of the VFR. This might be viewed as a minor element, yet it is a vital process in ascertaining confidence and the restoration of human dignity and confidentiality for victims of GBV.

Expired kits 

The SAPS oversight visits exposed limitations and ineffectuality in the supply chain management process and disposal of expired merchandise. 

The CGE Mpumalanga provincial office reported that an alarming number of SAPS police stations still have in stock expired Blood Alcohol Collection Kits dated 31 July 2022 and 31 January 2020. Due to this, it can ascertain that the Blood Alcohol Kits are not rotated in the stores once received from supply chain management. The danger of using expired kits is running the risk and potential of producing unrealistic and inconclusive results that won't assist the investigation and prosecution of perpetrators.

READ | ANALYSIS: Nechama Brodie - Apathy, bureaucracy and ego: Why SA fails to make progress against GBV

As part of our constitutional mandate and restorative justice, the monitored police stations were expected to provide evidence and availability of evidence collection kits.

Its worth noting that some police stations do not have the DB kits commonly known as the DNA reference sample collection kit. DNA kits are a vital element for law enforcement in investigating and prosecuting crimes of sexual violence. The SAPS need to have a hands-on deck in ensuring consistency and justice for survivors and victims of GBVF.

During the SAPS oversight visits, the CGE was able to understand the need for and importance of debriefing in this sector. The psychological briefing is a necessity for GBVF implementers since it has the benefit of psychological healing and is a catalyst in preventing psychological trauma. Scholarly articles emphasise the importance of debriefing for gender-based violence activists and implementers. This is an area that needs to be explored. 

Based on the SAPS oversight visit, the Commission concludes that there are pockets of excellence and optimal functionality in policing. However, there is a lack of standardisation across provinces regarding resources, training, staffing and processes. The Commission hopes its evidence-based approach elucidates the gaps in policing and highlights where gaps could be improved. 

- Lindiwe Ntuli-Tloubatla is a Commissioner at the Commission for Gender Equality.

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