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More effort is needed to curb attacks on women

Picture: Tracey Adams/ African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Picture: Tracey Adams/ African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Published Jun 4, 2022


By Zelna Jansen

A sample survey conducted in Gauteng in 2010, found that 51% of women in South Africa have experienced gender-based violence (GBV). And 76% of men stated that they have perpetrated GBV at one stage in their lives.

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The SAPS crime statistics for the year 2019/2020 grimly indicates that 53 293 sexual offences were reported which averaged 146 a day. Of this, 42 289 were rapes. This was an increase from the previous year’s crime statistics.

Femicide is also five times higher in South Africa than the global average and it has the fourth-highest female interpersonal violence death rate out of 183 countries listed by the World Health Organization (WHO). Besides the emotional and physical harm caused by GBV, a study conducted by KPMG, estimated GBV costs to South Africa are between R28.4 billion and R42.4bn annually.

Outcries from various advocacy groups led to the Presidential Summit against Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF) in November 2018. Following the summit, it was proposed that three laws be amended to curb the rate of GBV.

President Cyril Ramaphosa signed the bills into law in January this year. The Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Act of 2021, expands the instances when a complainant can give evidence through an intermediary and provides for evidence to be given though audio-visual links.

This is an important amendment as section 35(3)(h) of the Constitution states that an accused must be presumed innocent. This creates an adversarial and harsh justice system for the victim, who must consistently prove what happened.

Eventually leading to the trial and being interrogated by the legal representative of the accused. Having a victim testify through other measures will hopefully ease secondary victimisation.

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The Domestic Violence Amendment Act of 2021 includes new definitions such as “controlling behaviour” and “coercive behaviour”. The definition of domestic violence now includes spiritual abuse, and elder abuse.

The Act also introduces online applications for protection orders against acts of domestic violence. The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act of 2021, introduces a new offence of sexual intimidation and expands the scope of the National Register for Sex Offenders (NRSO) to include the particulars of all sex offenders and not only sex offenders against children and people who are mentally disabled.

Laws are regarded as classical examples of using legal regulation to change behaviour, which have been found to be effective because they are backed by a punitive threat. This prompts people to make judgements about risks and rewards before deciding whether to engage in a prohibited activity.

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However, if laws are not effectively implemented, they will lose their sting. One must also consider that South Africa is a violent society. A study conducted in 2007 by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation found that violent crime is deeply ingrained in the social fabric of South Africa and cannot simply be solved through the criminal justice system.

Factors that contribute to the high rates of violence are inequality, poverty, unemployment, marginalisation, the vulnerability of young people, which is linked to poor child rearing, ambivalence towards the law, normalisation of violence and an overdependence on an inefficient criminal justice system.

Add a healthy dose of patriarchy, and the perpetrator’s ambivalence towards the laws, the outcome hoped for may not be achieved. Another vitally critical issue is that the police to population ratio is 1:413.

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GBV hotspots in, for example, the Western Cape such as Delft, Nyanga, Mitchells Plain and Khayelitsha will have a higher population to police ratio. This will impact SAPS effectiveness in implementing the new laws. More must therefore be done.

The president with the International Women’s Forum of South Africa launched the GBVF Response Fund in February 2021. The private sector pledged R128 million to help fight GBVF. This is a noble attempt. However, the president recognised GBVF as a pandemic.

Therefore, the government must do more and place more resources to stop this pandemic. What about a tax on alcohol? A review conducted by the Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance and the South African Medical Research Council found that alcohol drives GBVF.

The tax must be earmarked for programmes fighting GBVF. The health promotion levy on sugar beverages added an extra R2.7bn to the fiscus. At the same time, it also found that people reduced their intake of sugar beverages.

Taxes and regulations on tobacco products also reduced the number of people who smoked. This is something that our law and policy-makers should explore. South Africa remains haunted by its violent past and it shows up in the crime statistics for all crimes, including GBVF.

Therefore, more must be done to create opportunities for people to heal from the trauma of the past that seems to be carried over to generations. Religious institutions can play a significant role in this area. One can only imagine the efforts to curb GBVF that could be funded by a tax on alcohol.

However, that also depends on whether such funds will reach those it is supposed to help.

* Jansen is a lawyer and CEO of Zelna Jansen Consultancy