Cape Town - 140130 - School kids walk home or to bus stops from various schools in and around Walmer Estate. Picture: David Ritchie

Cape Town - There have been at least 117 sexual assaults on children younger than 14 in Cape Town since the beginning of the year, says Rape Crisis director Kathleen Dey.

She pulled the stats from two Thuthuzela Care Centres – essentially victim-support facilities. The two centres accept referrals from 20 police stations across the city, and provide support for victims. The figure may seem large, but it is consistent with monthly sexual assault averages over the last number of years.

Police crime stats indicated that 8 776 sexual crimes, including rape, were reported in the Western Cape during the 2012/13 financial year.

This figure, also consistent with stats for preceding years, amounts to a monthly average of 731 reported sexual assaults. Police statistics do not, however, reflect the age of sexual assault victims.

Three child rapes on the Cape Flats since the beginning of the year have grabbed headlines. But Dey says that the attention given to high-profile cases often masks the wide extent of sexual assaults and rapes of children.

The Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry heard on Wednesday that the Khayelitsha police’s Child Protection Unit was failing victims because of a lack of professionalism, ill discipline and poor management. Dr Genine Josias, a medical co-ordinator for Khayelitsha’s Thuthuzela Centre, said this resulted in the delaying of DNA evidence processing, which meant rapists were being acquitted en masse.

In the most high-profile attack this year, a nine-year-old Delft girl was tied up, raped, doused in petrol and set alight. She survived the attack and is currently in hospital, where she is expected to undergo a series of major operations over the next few months.

A 27-year-old man has been arrested and charged with rape and attempted murder. He appeared in a Bellville Magistrate’s Court earlier this week and will appear again on March 27.

A week earlier, another Delft girl, aged six, was trapped in a communal toilet cubicle and raped. There has been no arrest, but police issued an identikit and a description of the rapist – 45 to 50 years old, approximately 1.65m tall, with a dark complexion and a sturdy build.

On Sunday, an 11-year-old boy was lured into an abandoned building in Bonteheuwel and raped, allegedly by a man known to residents as “Franky”. Police are searching for the suspect.

An “outraged” Social Development MEC Albert Fritz on Thursday condemned attacks on children and calling for perpetrators to be arrested.

Dey, however, noted that there was an overemphasis on arrest and conviction in public discourse on the topic of rape in South Africa. She urged that the government and society acknowledge “societal drivers” underpinning the scourge of sexual violence. These included the desperation, hopelessness and substance abuse that accompanied inequality and poverty. Those factors, especially alcohol and drug abuse, drove some to violent extremes.

“This is why, as Rape Crisis we have been very supportive of (Health Minister) Aaron Motsoaledi’s proposal to ban alcohol advertising… It is important for the government to understand the drivers of social ills and to implement policies that target these root causes,” she said.

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Cape Argus