'We're failing women, children'
While crimes against women and children have decreased, the latest police statistics reveal that almost 90% of the victims of sexual offences are women and children.
Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said yesterday children were being targeted and abused, but he vowed to reverse this trend.
He said though the sexual offences ratio had decreased by 3.7%, the police were not satisfied.
"We are still concerned about the scourge of rape in our country. Rape decreased by 1.9% but [the figure] is unacceptably high.
"More resources and better training of police [to deal with such crimes] are now being put in place," said Mthethwa.
There have been repeated calls from the highest echelons of the government to reduce crimes against women and children.
The statistics released yesterday showed that 793 children and 2286 women were murdered in 2011-2012.
Also, 12645 children and 87191 women were assaulted.
On Women's Day last month, President Jacob Zuma highlighted the government's commitment to reducing crimes against women and children.
"We urge communities to help the government to eradicate violence against women through reporting such crimes. Domestic violence should not be treated as a private matter. It is a crime and must be reported to the police," said Zuma.
"As a nation we must unite against all hooligans who attack and sexually assault women and girls. The recent reported rape of a woman aged 94, who is the same age as our own Madiba, depicts a sickness in our society that must be nipped in the bud.
"Women must be free to walk anywhere, day or night, without fearing attack. The police stand ready to deal with such criminals," Zuma said.
According to StatsSA's mid-year population estimates released in July last year, about 52%, or 26.07million, of the population were female. And 31.3% of the population were younger than 15.
Yesterday, Mthethwa admitted sexual offences remained a "challenging category" for the police.
"It is also influenced by reporting behaviour. If victims trust police then you will get more reporting. So the issue of under-reporting remains a challenge, and not just in South Africa but internationally."
In 2009, it was decided to re-introduce the family violence, child protection and sexual offences units.
During his budget vote speech in May, Mthethwa reiterated that crimes against women and children were one of the SAPS's 10 priorities. Others were the transformation of the police force, "enhancing" the criminal justice system and strengthening crime intelligence capacity.
At the time, Mthethwa announced that R49.5-million was ploughed into the family violence, child protection and sexual offences units based in all 176 SAPS clusters.
Yesterday he said that in the two years that the unit has been up and running again it had trained specialised officers to deal with "these heinous crimes".
"A working relationship with the judiciary has been established to have such cases prioritised.
"The correctness of the decision we took in the past few years is indicated in the major victories that this unit has managed to score over the last two years," he said.
But last month parliament heard how police were failing women: only 12 of 162 stations countrywide were found to comply with the Domestic Violence Act's prescripts.
Lisa Vetten, from the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre, said under-reporting of rape was a major problem.
A study conducted by the Medical Research Council and Genderlinks in Gauteng in 2010 had found that one in 13 women who were raped by a stranger or someone they knew reported it to the police.
Also, one in 25 women raped by their partners reported the crime to the police, she said.
"When we get police statistics on rape they really reflect a minority of cases and they can't be treated as an accurate picture of the extent of rape in South Africa," said Vetten.
She said women and children got little protection from the justice system and often asked: "Why should we bother reporting?"
"We just finished a study looking at 120 cases reported over three years at one rural police station in Mpumalanga. Of those cases there was exactly one conviction. So there is no incentive for women to report."