Sexual abuse stats 'untrue'

12 September 2010 - 02:00 By Subashni Naidoo

'Statistics are human beings with the tears wiped off,' wrote Paul Brodeur in Outrageous Misconduct. With this week's release of the national crime stats showing a decrease in murders, but an increase in sexual offences, Subashni Naidoo asked rights groups to interrogate the numbers

Women and children's rights organisations claim the latest sexual offences statistics don't reflect the magnitude of the problem in South Africa.

The crime statistics report, released on Thursday, showed a 4.4% drop in the sexual offences category from 144.8 per 100000 in 2008/2009 to 138.5 in 2009/2010.

"This represents a decrease of 2182 cases, from 70514 to 68332," the report stated.

It said sexual offences included a wider range of offences, such as sex work, pornography, public indecency and human trafficking, which previously did not form part of rape or indecent assault.

While People Opposing Women Abuse welcomed the decrease in the offences, it said the figures were "not a true reflection of rape in the country".

Powa's executive director, Nhlanhla Mokwena, said there was still a high percentage of women who did not report rape because of the stigma.

"Their family members and community are not supportive and often blame or question the survivor.

''Many of these women are also put off by the legal process which sometimes takes years to conclude. It is traumatising for them to re-tell their stories several times," said Mokwena.

She said the hurdles deterred rape survivors from seeking legal recourse.

Lisa Vetten, a senior researcher and policy analyst at Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy, said the biggest problem with the figures was that it was far too general and lacked detail.

"Police have lumped together all the categories ... so we ultimately don't have any idea of what the actual rape statistics are.

''If the rape figures have increased, but fewer people are arrested or charged for running brothels and soliciting sex, you can actually bring down the number of sexual offences overall, even though the individual rate of rape has increased," said Vetten.

The report showed a 19.8% increase in sexual offences against women and a 36.1% increase against children.

"On the one hand, they say they are going down, but if you look at the detail, they are actually increasing."

Vetten said part of the problem was that crime figures were too politicised.

The report stated that in future "a special effort would have to be made to separate sexual offences between those reported by the public (which basically comprise of rape, sexual penetration and indecent assault) and sexual offences which are generated by police action (such as those relating to sex work, prostitution and pornography)".

National Childline director Joan van Niekerk said the situation with children was even more worrying.

"When the day comes that I stop getting reports from our offices around the country that children have not been turned away when trying to report rape, then only will I believe the rape statistics," said Van Niekerk.

Nonkululeko Mbatha, spokesman for the national police commissioner General Bheki Cele, could not be reached for comment.