South Africa: Domestic violence must be included in crime stats

Date: September 13, 2011
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Last week South African Police Minister Nathi Mthetwa released annual crime statistics for 2010-2011. On average, crime has decreased and the murder rate dropped by 6.5%. However, it was shocking to read there was a 5.6% increase in the number of women murdered last year. This while police claim violence against women and children is a priority.

Reported sexual offences decreased by 3.1% (there were 35 820 reported cases against women and 28 128 against children). The number of rape cases increased from an already alarmingly high 55 097 to 56 272. Mthetwa acknowledged that the actual number could be much higher since many go unreported.

In the ten years since the 1998 Domestic Violence Act (DVA) came into force, domestic violence remains a crime which receives scant attention and is not logged in South Africa Police Services (SAPS) annual crime statistics. Most domestic violence cases are recorded as assault or assault with the intention to cause grievous bodily harm.

Not reporting domestic violence is very problematic. The SADC Protocol on Gender and Development calls on states to halve levels of gender-based violence (GBV) by 2015, but how is this measured if we do not gather relevant statistics? Although the 2011 Crime Situation Report acknowledges most crime is perpetrated by someone the victim knows -hence the connotation “social crime” – it is silent about crime that occurs in the home. This crime ranges from common assault to murder, marital rape and contravention of protection orders; all ultimately termed “domestic violence”.

Imagine this example from the Sowetan newspaper on 12 September 2011. Bossie Phungula, husband to Annie Phungula, admitted to stabbing his wife five times, pouring petrol over her and setting her alight last year. This brutal incident, which led to Annie Phungula’s death four months later, occurred in the family home in front of their children and maid. One year later, Bossie Phungula was released due to “lack of evidence.” Such a repulsive state of affairs is one reason it is so unfortunate that national annual crime statistics remain silent on domestic violence.

A 2010 review conducted by Gender Links and the South African Medical Research Council (MRC) titled The War at Home provides a detailed analysis of how GBV can be measured. In this paper, GBV includes physical, sexual, psychological and economic intimate partner violence; rape and sexual assault by a partner, acquaintance or family member; and sexual harassment at school or work. The research further notes that in the period 2008-2009, 15 307 cases of domestic violence were opened in Gauteng and 12 093 cases involved a female victim.

The same study involved a province-wide household survey. It revealed that 18.1% of women had been abused at least once in the 12 months preceding the survey, while 29% of men had abused their partner in a similar time period. This shows that routine data collected at local police station level is just the tip of the iceberg. Although 25.4% of women experienced rape at least once in their lifetime, only 3.9% had reported it to the police. Just 2.1% of women raped by an intimate partner reported the incident to police. Women that experienced sexual or physical abuse in their relationship were more likely to be diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection, test positive for HIV, suffer from depression or consider suicide.

The true extent of domestic violence may never be accurately measured by routinely collected data, but the inclusion of what is reported in annual crime statistics would be an acknowledgement of the extent of domestic violence in our deeply patriarchal society.

In accordance with the national gender-based violence slogan “Don’t look away, act against abuse”, it is time we confronted the problem and started talking about its extent, at least from what we can measure. We should also give credit where it is due and praise the police for including rape as a separate category for the first time since the Sexual Offences Act came into force in 2007.

Reporting domestic violence in crime statistics is not only so we can understand crime statistics, it also goes a long way in gauging where South Africa stands in terms of women’s empowerment and gender equality. A situation in which women continue to be abused irrespective of the Domestic Violence and Sexual Offences acts should elicit serious further enquiry into social crime prevention.

Indeed, as Mthethwa rightly noted, more effort and different approaches are required in order to curb all forms of domestic violence. It is most critical to step-up education, outreach and awareness programmes to sensitise citizens about existing legislation.

Prevention work will only succeed at reducing crime if all stakeholders agree to engage with (and tackle) the difficult underlying factors that contribute to a culture of violence.

Hopefully new Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng will prove critics wrong and work to ensure that women and children get justice from our courts of law. Hopefully this country will see no more miscarriages of justice such as in the case of Bossie Phungula, a man who admitted setting his wife on fire but was released to possibly murder once more. Women like Annie Phungula deserve this justice, even from beyond the grave.

Mercilene Machisa is the Gender Links Gender Based Violence Indicators Research Manager. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, bringing you fresh views on everyday news.




2 thoughts on “South Africa: Domestic violence must be included in crime stats”

Sbusiso Khumalo says:

South African have prevailed against the worst injustices in the history of mankind – but this was only possible becuase All South Africans united against the perpetrators and those that conspired with them. Let ALL of South Africa unite our efforts both to educate, stand up, speak against it and support those subjected to this gross inhumanity.

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