Call for prevalence survey as police data again falls short

Date: November 24, 2011
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Johannesburg, 23 November 2011: On the eve of the Sixteen Days of Activism Gender Links (GL) has issued a call for a national prevalence and attitude survey on gender violence that would establish the true extent, effect and response to this gross human rights violation. GL has also called on the South African Police Service (SAPS) to honour commitments made to provide more meaningful reporting on gender violence.

This call follows the conducting of a prevalence and attitude survey in Gauteng that points to serious under-reporting of violent crime against women in the South African Police Services (SAPS) 2010-2011 Crime Report released in September 2011 as well as other major information gaps in this report.

The crime report, which covers the period April 2010 to March 2011, records 66 196 cases of sexual offences (of which 56 272 were rape cases). Data on provinces shows a sexual offences rate of 29.1 for every 100 000 people in Gauteng, or a rate of 0.03%.

In contrast, in the prevalence and attitudes survey conducted by GL in partnership with the South African Medical Research Council (MRC) in Gauteng in 2010, 7.8% of women reported being raped in the 12 months before the survey. The survey consisted of a wide- ranging questionnaire administered to a representative sample of the population.

A comparison of the 7.8% incidence of rape in the survey and the 0.03% sexual offences incidence reported by SAPS for Gauteng shows that the survey rape incidence is over 200 times more than the incidence reported in the SAPS crime report for 2010- 2011.

One clue to the inadequacy of police data is that in the survey only 3.9% of women raped reported this to the police. Families often put women under pressure not to report rape cases to the police. Many women also feel uncomfortable about doing so because of the response that they get at police stations.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development sets a target of reducing levels of gender violence by half by 2015. A major stumbling bloc, as illustrated in the example of sexual offence statistics for Gauteng, is that police data does not reveal the true extent of the problem.

This shows that if governments are serious about ending gender violence they need to go beyond the routine police collection of data, and invest in dedicated gender violence surveys, similar to the prevalence studies conducted on HIV and AIDS. South Africa has conducted three dedicated national HIV/AIDS population based surveys to monitor the nation’s response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in 2002; 2005 and 2008.

Following the Gauteng study, GL has extended this research to three more provinces (Kwa Zulu Natal, Limpopo and the Western Cape). These results will be available in 2012. But they still will not cover the whole country. And for studies like this to be meaningful they have to be repeated periodically.

“It is beyond the scope of one small NGO to run these kinds of studies,” said GL CEO Colleen Lowe Morna. “The government of South Africa needs to put its money where its mouth is and take on the running of such surveys.”

Other than providing more accurate statistics on rape the survey – that uses a range of internationally tested tools – covers areas that do not appear at all in police statistics such as emotional and economic violence.

The Gauteng survey showed that 13% of women experienced emotional violence and 9.3% of women experienced economic violence in the 12 months before the survey. Emotional violence emerged as the most commonly experienced form of violence.

The survey also provides data on attitudes towards gender violence, critical to long term, sustainable solutions. Combining prevalence and attitudes surveys is cost effective and allows for correlations to be made between experiences, attitudes and behaviour.

This part of the Gauteng survey showed that women have more progressive views than men but that both perceive communities to have highly conservative views. Data of this kind points to the need to put prevention campaigns at the centre of responses to gender violence. Presently, apart from the annual Sixteen Days campaign, there is virtually no government expenditure on prevention.

Conducting surveys should be complementary to improving collection and analysis of police data. In conducting the survey, GL held several meetings with SAPS and secured commitments to improving data collection and reporting.

On the positive side, the 2010/2011 report disaggregates cases of rape from other sexual offences. Since the passing of the Sexual Offences Act in 2008, there has been a sharp increase in reported cases, but this is largely due to the broad definition of sexual offences, including among others prostitution. SAPS is now making a distinction between sexual offences reported to the police and those that the police goes out to find.

However, SAPS is yet to honour other commitments to improving police reporting on gender violence. For example:

  • Despite repeated assurances, there is still no distinctive category on domestic violence, subsumed under categories like “assault with intent to inflict grievous bodily harm” and “common assault”. Although these statistics are gender disaggregated, there is no information on relationships. This affects the usefulness of the SAPS data in determining if these are cases of gender violence.
  • Although there is a category for murders of women in the SAPS report, the absence of relationship information means that femicide rates (or the murder of a woman by an intimate partner) cannot be deduced. The result is that researchers have to go through every female murder docket to determine if this is indeed femicide: information that the police could easily provide.
  • While the 2010/2011 SAPS report includes a section on “crimes against women and children,” this falls short of the SAPS commitment to introduce a rigorous analysis of gender violence in its annual report. GL will continue to lobby for this.

To view the War @ Home publication, click here. For more information phone Colleen Lowe Morna on 082 651 6995 or Mercilene Machisa on 27 11 622 2877 or 073 719 0305 or email  


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