Rapists get off easy: Report cites incompetence in investigating sex crimes

Crime and punishment: New report cites gross police incompetence in investigating sex crimes

30 October 2017 - 06:25 By Graeme Hosken
The 2016-2017 annual report of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) shows a 91.8% conviction rate for copper theft. File photo.
The 2016-2017 annual report of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) shows a 91.8% conviction rate for copper theft. File photo.
Image: Gallo Images/ IStock

Copper thieves are more likely to be convicted in South Africa than rapists.

And in Gauteng and the Free State, many rapists are receiving a suspended sentence instead of imprisonment.

This is despite the law specifying that the minimum sentence for rape is 10 years in prison if there are no extenuating circumstances.

The 2016-2017 annual report of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) shows a 91.8% conviction rate for copper theft.

But a report titled Rape Justice in South Africa, by the Medical Research Council on behalf of the NPA, reveals that only 8% of rapists brought to court are convicted.

The document, which was presented to police and prosecutors, shows dismal failings by both groups in interviewing rape survivors, and tracing, arresting and prosecuting suspects.

The research - the first of its kind in South Africa with national coverage - examined 3952 rape cases reported in 2012.

The research report states that 94% of those raped were women, 46% were children and 4.9% were disabled. Almost two-thirds of the perpetrators (64%) were known to the victim.

The study looked at reasons for rape cases being abandoned during their progress through the criminal justice system. The intention is to use the information to strengthen investigations, prosecutions and case adjudication.

The research found that:

  • 1264 adult perpetrators had previous convictions, 5% for rape;
  • The police visited only 53% of crime scenes;
  • In 50% of cases in which there were witnesses, no witness statements were taken;
  • 42.2% of cases did not result in an arrest;
  • In 23% of the adult rape cases, evidence-collection kits were not sent to the police forensic science laboratories; and
  • In 17% of cases no statement by the rape survivor was taken.

Rachel Jewkes, the Medical Research Council's executive scientist for research strategy, said some of the adult rape evidence kits had been kept by investigators for up to three years without being sent to forensic laboratories, "which is against national police instructions".

In 50% of cases in which there were witnesses, no witness statements were taken

She said the MRC had found that, in 57% of the cases involving children aged 12 to 17, the police did not send the evidence kits to the forensic laboratories.

"When it came to the rape of children under 12, 33.8% of the evidence kits were not sent to the laboratories.

"The implication is that DNA that could have been found, analysed and used to identify rapists, especially
serial rapists, was never collected."

Jewkes said that of the 3,952 cases, prosecutors enrolled 1,362 for trial. Trials only started in 731 of the cases with just 340 of these finalised with a guilty verdict.

She said researchers had found that in 23% of cases in which there was no arrest, the perpetrator had been identified and the victim wanted to proceed with the case.

Jewkes said that many courts deviated from the prescribed 10-year minimum sentence for rape.

"What's shocking is that whereas 247 perpetrators were imprisoned, 68 of those convicted received suspended sentences. In Gauteng 36% of adults convicted for rape received a suspended sentence, while in the Free State 20% of adults received suspended sentences. We cannot understand how this is possible."

She said researchers were frustrated by the lack of court transcripts needed to try to understand the reasons for the suspended sentences.

"We spent two years trying to get the transcripts, with nearly 80% unattainable either because they were destroyed or missing."

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