Dear President Zuma, Minister Nthetwa and the cabinet

Date: January 1, 1970
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It was encouraging to hear in your recent State of the Nation address that crimes against women and children will receive “the most serious attention.À This follows the statement only a few days ago by Deputy Minister of Police, Fikile Mbalula, that the government was considering reintroducing the specialist Family Violence Child Protection and Sexual Offences (FCS) Units, which is also most welcome.

These statements all signal the government’s commitment to take the problem of violence against women and children seriously. But (since it is one of civil society organisations’ roles to raise the “but”) we are concerned by government’s target of reducing serious and violent crimes by 7% – 10% every year.
Perhaps this goal might be appropriate for some crimes, but it is entirely inappropriate for crimes of sexual violence. We urge you to please rethink this target and approach on the following grounds.
The causes of sexual violence are diverse and complex and the police contribution to addressing these causes limited. It is simply not within their scope to compensate for unhappy or deprived childhoods, dismantle patriarchy, eliminate masculine sexual entitlement, create full employment, or cure substance abuse problems.
It is also not within their scope to teach anger management courses (along with skills to curb impulsive thinking and behaviour, as well as build shaky egos), provide schooling to those with incomplete education, or eliminate frustration, jealousy and hatred – just some of the factors contributing to crimes like rape and child abuse.
While we acknowledge the existence of the police’s anti-rape strategy, we must point out that it appears to largely rely on mapping where rapes occur and then patrolling in these identified areas. It is therefore limited to addressing some of the sexual offences that occur in public spaces.
Other traditional policing strategies such as networks of informers and undercover agents, roadblocks, and raids are similarly limited. Moreover, while the patrolling of sectors may interrupt housebreakings in progress, it is not possible to place police officers in people’s homes where more than half of rapes occur. 
Overall then, reducing rape by 7% every year is not within the police’s reach and merely creates perverse incentives to meet this target. In the absence of concrete and proven strategies to reduce rape, our organisations, as well as research, find that some stations resort to turning rape complainants away in order to meet these performance targets.
This target is also meaningless. As is the case worldwide, rape is extensively under-reported in South Africa, with research finding that only one in nine women report being raped to the police. Unless the police intend conducting large-scale surveys investigating the extent of under-reporting by rape complainants, they have no way of knowing whether the decreases are due to fewer women and girls reporting to the police, or the result of an actual drop in the incidence of rape.
We urge you therefore to do away with this target and instead measure performance by an increase in the reporting of such crimes (amongst other targets). This revision should be accompanied by strategies to encourage victims to report, as well as the reintroduction of the FCS Units, whose performance has been shown to outstrip that of general detectives in relation to investigating sexual offences.
As organisations who work daily with victims of sexual offences, we take up your invitation in the State of the Nation address to work together with government to intensify the fight against crime. We also agree that preventing violence against women and children is essential and have a number of ideas in this regard.
All that is lacking is the time and date when our organisations can meet with the Ministry of Police to help develop a comprehensive policing strategy to address sexual offences.
Yours sincerely
Lisa Vetten for Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre, Centre for Applied Legal Studies, Childline, Masimanyane Women’s Support Centre, Mosaic Training Service and Healing Centre for Women, Simelela Centre, and Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Programme.


Lisa Vetten is a researcher and policy analyst at Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service which offers fresh news on every day news.



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