THE police and the criminal justice system are failing rape survivors in Khayelitsha as officers are irritable and overworked, resulting in them failing to respond to complaints promptly and failing to take case dockets to court.
This is according to Dr Genine Josias, a medical co-ordinator for the Khayelitsha Thuthuzela Forensic Centre, who says there is only a 7 percent conviction rate in cases before the Khayelitsha Magistrate’s Court.
Josias, who works closely with the police’s Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit in Khayelitsha, was testifying at the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry yesterday.
Many rape cases at the Khayelitsha court were withdrawn due to the police delaying the processing of DNA evidence.
In one case, submitted as evidence before the commission, DNA results were outstanding for seven months – four months after the turnaround time. The case had been postponed six times.
“I just ask myself what we do at the centre. Why do we collect DNA evidence meticulously? Why are doctors and nurses on standby day and night to collect evidence if this fails our patients? When it comes to the police and the courts, they are failing our clients,” Josias said.
She told the commission there was a lack of professionalism in the unit, ill-discipline, gross incompetence and it was poorly managed.
The centre, based at the Khayelitsha Hospital, provided medical care for rape survivors, helped reduce secondary trauma and worked with the criminal justice system to achieve speedy convictions.
It worked closely with the police, who were the first point of call for members of the public. Survivors would be taken by police to the centre where they would be examined and forensic evidence taken.
In her testimony Josias said there was a shortage of officers in the unit and those employed could not deal with their workload. The unit, based in Site B Khayelitsha Police Station, serviced the three police stations in the township, had only five investigating officers and each officer handled about 120 cases, she said.
Three of them were dealing with withdrawn cases, which included tracing absconding suspects or locating witnesses, while one officer was currently on maternity leave.
The officers were expected to take statements, ensure witnesses and survivors were in court and deliver subpoenas, among other things.
She said the centre had asked police management several times to employ more
officers, but the requests never had a positive response.
She said rape survivors had registered a number of complaints against some officers who had failed to report back on their cases, while others failed to keep contact with survivors after the first interview.
Josias recalled a case in 2010 when she noticed a trend regarding five cases in which girls, up to the age of nine, had been violently raped in Endlovini informal settlement. She called a meeting with the centre’s partners, including Rape Crisis and the police, and raised her suspicion of a serial rapist in the area.
But a police captain who had been present failed to report the matter to his superiors. It was only after Josias contacted then provincial commissioner, Mzwandile Petros, threatening to go public with her suspicion, that action was taken through the establishment of a task team.
But despite this, there were 16 more incidents over 18 months before the culprit was caught, Josias said.
She also cited an incident where rape kits, containing evidence collected by the centre, were found dumped in a field in Delft. Norman Arendse SC, for the police, said dumping of rape kits was a criminal offence.