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Sat Jul 30 11:18:12 SAST 2016

Cops 'turn back on rape'

Aarti J Narsee | 29 March, 2016 00:39
The reasons for so many rape cases failing to make it to court are revealed in a new book, Rape Unresolved: Policing Sexual Offences in South Africa, by Dee Smythe. File photo
Image by: istock Images

Ntombi is sleeping alongside her boyfriend when she hears noises at the door. Three of her boyfriend’s friends enter the room and take turns raping her repeatedly, while her boyfriend watches. She reports the case to the police and a medical examination proves that she was sexually assaulted.

In another case, a 15-year-old is abducted and raped over six days. The case is reported to the police but the victim disappears and her whereabouts remain unknown.

Both cases have one thing in common: they were closed by the police.

In Ntombi’s case, the detective writes on the file: "The victim has not contacted me to arrange pointing out. The victim is never at home, therefore it seems like the victim is not interested in the case any more."

The reasons so many rape cases fail to make it to court are revealed in a new book, Rape Unresolved: Policing Sexual Offences in South Africa, by Dee Smythe. It is based on information compiled from detectives, magistrates and prosecutors.

Smythe, director of The Centre for Law and Society at UCT, says rape victims are expected to help with leads in their own case.

The police expect victims to make regular phone calls to check up on their case and always to be available when the detective calls or visits. In some instances victims are expected to help search for witnesses or the accused.

Smythe says:

• When a woman reports a rape, she is "vetted"- based on "credibility and reliability" of her claims;

• Detectives claim that victims fabricate and exaggerate rape complaints for their own goals of "revenge or extortion or to explain sexual misdemeanours"; and

• The quality of statements taken by the police is "shocking" and "an embarrassment".

At one police station, a detective told Smythe that a "seven-day rule applies", meaning that if the victim did not contact the officer within a week, the case was closed.

Many officers were adamant that most cases were "false complaints". A detective who has been investigating rape cases for more than a decade said: "We don’t have genuine rape cases here", adding that maybe two cases a month were genuine, because they involved child victims.

Kathleen Dey, director of Rape Crisis Centre in Cape Town, said survivors often did not know what was going on with their case. This led to them missing court dates.

"One of our clients had thought her perpetrator was in custody, but walked past him in the street. Another of our clients we saw in court was told she had to find out where the perpetrator lived," said Dey.

Police spokesman Vishnu Naidoo said: "Depending on the circumstances of the case, the investigating officer may request the complainant/victim to contact her/him if they obtain further information regarding the witnesses and/or offender."

He added that all officers received training in the Sexual Offices Act.

Experts believe shoddy detective work is not exclusive to rape cases. "If you look at the workload of detectives, this is one of the reasons why they don’t follow up. They might have 200 dockets," said Gareth Newham from the Institute for Security Studies.

Lisa Vetten, a researcher at Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, agreed. "When you have high caseloads you make a decision on what case you want to take on and which you want to ignore."

Newham said that rather than hiring more police, the "the best calibre of people" should be employed. Holding officers to account was equally important.

*Not her real name

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