PRETORIA - Legal experts, law enforcement officers, crime activists, child protection bodies and government officials on Tuesday at a National Press Club function painted a grim picture of the criminal justice system's efforts to curb the abuse of women and children.
Anti-crime activist Yusuf Abramjee said the criminal justice system was failing the country.
“We know that the criminal justice system in South Africa works very slowly. Forget gender-based violence for a moment, even on other serious crime. It takes years and years for a case to be solved. I was a victim of a house robbery six years ago. The two suspects are still in the Pretoria Regional Court on trial. They will be coming back to court in December,” said Abramjee.
“How do we win the fight against crime when our criminal justice system is failing us? We have a serious problem. That is why we need the government to act, and to act decisively. As civil society must really stand up and say we have had enough. A march here and there is not going to help. We have to mobilise and take the fight against gender-based violence to the next level.”
The SA Police Service’s national head of the family violence, child protection and sexual offences unit, Major-General Bafana Linda appealed to community members to report police officers who let down women and children, and said the SAPS would not hesitate to arrest the culprits.
“As the SAPS is that we are not only focusing on the arrest of the perpetrator. The critical point also is for the healing within the victim. This is not a crime that happens on a person’s body only. It is a scar within a person’s soul. We want to be proactive, in terms of skilling our frontline. We want to remove the secondary trauma so that women who walk into the police station must never be sent back,” said Linda.
“No woman should be sent back home, when they want to report a crime. That is the message repeatedly said by Minister Bheki Cele and the senior management of the police. We are monitoring it. We are the only department which deals with its own members. We are not shy to change the blue uniform into orange.”
He said members of the SAPS have name tags, and community members should note the names of the officers who refused to serve them.
“See the name of the person [police officer] and take down the name of that person. At the station level we have various levels of command. One can report to the station commander, or on the SAPS hotline number. We have to deal with those who are non-compliant within the prescripts of our own department.”
Department of women, youth and people with disabilities’ Mmabatho Ramagoshi said research shows that South Africa’s stance on gender-based violence has been reactive.
“We have been reacting to gender-based violence and not putting more money in prevention. When you go to courts, and shelters … those are already victims. We are not preventing gender-based violence. There has been serious discussion which says we need to invest in education, parenting, and to raise a different calibre of young boys and girls in the country. If we invest money there, we don't need the other money for reaction,” she said.
Unicef South Africa chief of child protection Mayke Huijbregts said unfortunately abuse of children was often perpetuated by people known and trusted by the minors.
"We have spoken a lot about the criminal response system, and we also know that violence is widely under-reported. From the 3,952 rape cases in 2015, only 57% of these perpetrators were arrested. Only 8.6% of these cases were finalised [with the assailants found] guilty of sexual offences. If justice is not done, and perpetrators of violence against women and children continue to get away with it, the violence will not be reduced. The timely access to justice is extremely important - not within months, or years but within 72 hours, because children's lives are at stake," she said.