Deon de Lange

FOUR years after the introduction of new sexual offences legislation meant to improve the way these crimes are dealt with by the police and other departments, the government has repeatedly failed to comply with its own law, a report by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development has revealed.

The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act, which came into force in 2008, was supposed to be the primary weapon in the battle against sexual crimes. But a “Consolidated Progress Report” tabled in Parliament last week by the Justice Department noted that none of the departments responsible for implementing the act – including the Justice Department itself – had provided annual progress reports as required by the law.

The affected departments – Justice, Health, Social Development, Police, Correctional Services and the National Prosecuting Authority – also failed to implement specialised sexual-offences training programmes within legally stipulated timeframes and failed to report this lack of progress.

“This Consolidated Progress Report covers four years (January 2008 to December 2011) to address the failure to comply with statutory obligations by the departments and institutions responsible for the implementation of the act to provide annual reports,” the report states.

And where belated reporting had taken place, the information provided was found wanting.

With the limited information at its disposal, the inter-sectoral committee for the management of sexual offences, which co-ordinates government efforts to implement the law, has reported that departments are far behind schedule in putting the act into practice.

For instance, 79 police stations were prioritised to receive victim-friendly rooms during the 2011/12 financial year. But after only 20 were delivered, the contract with the constructor was terminated due to its “inability to meet the contractual specifications”.

The police nevertheless claim to have put up 900 victim-friendly rooms at police stations across the country over the past four years.

But in the Eastern Cape, Free State and North West, less than half the police stations have victim-friendly facilities.

Only Gauteng (93 percent) and the Western Cape (99 percent) have reported notable progress in this regard.

Recent on-site inspections by the portfolio committee on police found that in many cases these victim-friendly rooms were not separated from the rest of the police station, were not staffed by police officers who had undergone the necessary training, were not equipped to provide the required services and in some cases were nothing more than hastily cordoned-off sections of existing offices.

The report also indicates that just 3 222 police officers – less than 4 percent of the total service – have completed the First Responder to Sexual Offences Learning Programme and that only 932 have undergone the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Course since 2008.

This is despite the fact that 70 000 sexual offences were reported at police stations last year alone, representing about 10 percent of all reported contact crimes.