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THE criminal justice system has come under stinging criticism for its failure to curb sexual violence following the rape and murder last week of Bredasdorp teenager, Anene Booysen.
Nomboniso Gasa, of the Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution, said yesterday that “hard and urgent questions” needed to be answered, while DA justice spokeswoman Debbie Schafer called for the reinstatement of specialised courts to deal with sexual offences.
“Firstly, we must ask why do we have such low levels of arrest and conviction of those responsible for these crimes? Why does it take so long for these cases to be resolved, to an extent that in many instances, witnesses who were initially willing to come forward can no longer be found? Why is the criminal justice system failing South African children and women?” asked Gasa.
According to SAPS statistics, there were 64 514 sexual offences reported in South Africa in 2011/12, or 127.5 per 100 000 people. This compares with a rate of 2.1 per 100 000 in Kenya, 92.9 in Botswana, 27.3 in the US and 63.5 in Sweden, according to Reuters. It cautioned, however, that police procedures, methods of counting and recording, and legal definitions of rape varied across the world.
Gasa asked, in light of the “alarmingly high levels of rape, to what extent is it a central focus of South African government? What support is given to NGOs and other structures who work for the creation of a supportive environment for those who have experienced violence and abuse? How much does our society invest in promoting the safety of children and women?”
These and other issues had to be addressed “with greater urgency than we have seen until now”, Gasa said.
Schafer said the conviction rate for sexual offences was “appalling”.
“According to its latest annual report, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) claims a conviction rate of 65.1 percent (of reported cases that result in a prosecution) yet when we consider that 64 415 sexual offences were reported to the police in 2011/12, only 6.9 percent (4 500) of reported cases resulted in a conviction.”
The Medical Research Council (MRC) estimates that only one in 25 women who have been raped report the crime.
While reviving sexual offences courts would not solve the problem, “it is vital to provide a deterrent to would-be rapists”, said Schafer.
“A clear message must be sent that rapists will be arrested and convicted if they commit this offence,” she said.
Justice Minister Jeff Radebe appointed a task team last year to investigate the possibility of reinstating the special courts, following calls for this from fellow cabinet ministers and the NPA. He was due to receive the task team’s report at the end of last month.
“He should waste no time familiarising himself with the content of the report, and informing the public how he plans to deal with the issue,” Schafer said.
The SAPS has already begun reinstating the family violence, child protection and sex offences (FCS) units, scrapped in 2006.
Justice Department spokeswoman Phumla Mthala could not be reached for comment.