Police data on gender violence still falls short

Date: November 23, 2011
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Johannesburg, 23 November 2011: The annual Sixteen Days of Activism campaign begins this Friday, again focusing attention on the problem of gender violence. However, we still far from sufficiently understanding the problem and its potential solutions. A prevalence and attitude survey conducted by Gender Links (GL) in Gauteng points to serious under-reporting of violent crime against women in the South African Police Services (SAPS) 2010-2011 Crime Report released this past in September, and its high time that SAPS honours commitments made to provide more meaningful reporting on gender violence.

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 by province 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.

Comparing 7.8% incidence of rape in the survey with the 0.03% sexual offences incidence reported by SAPS for Gauteng suggests that rape incidence is over 200 times more than the number 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. 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.

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. While the GL surveys provide important insights, it is beyond the scope of a non-governmental organisation to run these kinds of ongoing studies nation-wide. The government of South Africa needs to put its money where its mouth is and take on the running of such research.

Other than providing more accurate statistics on rape the GL/ MRC 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 prior to 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. This kind of data 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 as an offence. SAPS are now making a distinction between sexual offences reported to the police and those that the police go 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. As well, there is no information on relationships, which makes it difficult to pinpoint some cases of gender violence. For example, there is a category for murders of women in the SAPS report, but the absence of relationship information means that femicide rates (or the murder of a woman by an intimate partner) cannot be deduced. Researchers have to go through every female murder docket to determine if this is indeed femicide.

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. If we are to make and measure real progress, it’s clear that we need to be armed with better information with which to move ahead.

Colleen Lowe Morna is the Executive Director and Mercilene Machisa the Gender Justice Programme Manager at Gender Links. This article is part of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service series for the 16 Days of Activism.




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