Change is in your pocket

The Big Issue is a socially responsible non-profit organisation that enables willing unemployed and marginalised adults to take responsibility for their own lives through a developmental employment programme.

10 things we need to do to tackle rape

Lisa Vetten, a gender-rights activist currently with the Wits City Institute at Wits University, tells The Big Issue what she thinks needs to happen to tackle the high levels of rape in our country.

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1. Appoint government officials at the highest and middle levels who think this is a priority and will pay it attention.

2. Open more sexual offences courts. There are too few currently. And if we can’t have them, we need to increase the availability across the country of trained prosecutors who specialise in rape. They also need to be given the necessary time to prepare their cases by the court’s management.

3. We need many more support services, fully and properly state funded. Such services play a very significant role and are often the victims’ advocates in the system. For example, in chasing up the doctors and nurses who take too long to follow up with the prosecutor and with the police on the course of the investigation. None of this comes easily or automatically for the victim.

4. The police need to be properly trained and station cultures need to change. Even if current training programmes are adequate, police members don’t necessarily implement what they learn. That’s got to do with the particular police station’s culture. A young, newly trained policeman or woman watches a superior doing something wrong in this regard and then has to tell that superior it’s wrong? It just doesn’t happen. So we need a massive culture change.

5. As it is, adherence to the relevant Acts doesn’t happen. Most stations do not comply with the requirements of the Domestic Violence Act, for example, and there are no consequences. One suggestion might be to deny performance bonuses to station commanders if the Act has not been complied with. Hit them in the pocket.

6. Domestic violence is not taken seriously and the public has lost whatever complaints mechanisms, independent of the police, it once had. Changes in law shifted oversight on police actions or non-actions from the former Independent Complaints Directorate (now the Independent Police Investigative Directorate) to the Civilian Secretariat for Police. While the secretariat is able to make recommendations to the police, it has no bite. In fact, since the law changed, reports to Parliament show some provinces have stopped submitting records of complaints around their handling of domestic violence matters to the secretariat. The Western Cape has a police ombudsman in advocate Vusi Pikoli, but there’s nothing similarly independent of the police in other provinces.

7. We need much better data systems in police, justice and health departments. It’s very hard to understand the true extent of victims’ access to justice and healthcare at any given moment.

8. The Government’s policy on removing barriers to the reporting of domestic violence and sexual offences must be made public and implemented. Among other things, it was meant to address police training, and to make the reporting process more user-friendly, especially for people with disabilities and LGBTI victims. Although it was finalised in 2015 by the Civilian Secretariat for Police and ‘launched’ in the same year by the Minister of Police, it has not been made publicly available. Written requests to the Minister for copies of this document have been ignored.

9. The policy on serial rape has also never seen the light of day. Currently, detectives do not automatically share information about cases with other stations, or work together on cases. There’s a high rate of serial rape in South Africa, which is one of the few types of rape the police could prevent if they rapidly formed collaborative task teams.

10. In 2009, about 5% of South African women murdered by their partners had protection orders. We need to better understand the circumstances that prevent some protection orders from working. Establishing an independent panel to review such murders could help accomplish this.

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