Shukumisa (the campaign of the National Working Group on sexual offences) posted an excellent article recently asking whether we can realistically expect the police to have any influence in reducing the number of rapes. The answer given in the article is a resounding “no”: in order to do this, the argument goes, the police would have to essentially fix all the societal problems at the root of rape, including the patriarchy, poverty, and poor standards of education. A bit of a tall order. Moreover, because so few rapes are even reported to the police, the SAPS can only be held responsible for the few which are reported, and what we should be hoping for is a higher arrest rate and better evidence to allow for prosecution.
Makes sense, at least on the surface. The police obviously can’t subvert the patriarchy or investigate rapes which aren’t reported to them.
Except – no. This is backwards, and we can see why if we look at two of the most powerful anti-rape campaigns in SA: 1 in 9, and Slutwalk, targeting rates of reported rape and rape myths, respectively. We can’t expect the police to upend patriarchal thinking, (partly because the police themselves are highly representative of the patriarchy) but we can expect them to improve rates of reported rape, and shut down on rape myths.
The role the SAPS has to play in reported rape statistics shows in the way in which reported rapes are handled. When someone goes to report a rape, they often don’t get a sympathetic officer prepared to take a statement and ensure the survivor makes it to a hospital; they get this. So the police can be held responsible for low rates of reported rapes, at the very least: if police officers were more sensitive and well-trained, it is highly likely that the number of reported rapes would increase. The police are not only responsible for properly investigating the rapes which are reported to them; they are also responsible for improving on the 1 in 9 statistic.
Beyond this, there is a level of responsibility across all of law enforcement which simply cannot be abdicated. Yes, the police can only go so far in terms of investigating reported rapes; no, they cannot use precogs to determine who will rape when, and cannot rush out and stop potential rapists. But a big part of the horrific rape rate in our country is the simple fact that there’s very little incentive not to rape. Part of that is the lack of social pressure: rapists are not the pariahs they should be. However, part of it is the legal problem: not only is the conviction rate for rapists ridiculously low, but the penalties are appalling. And then, on top of the paltry penalties dished out, we have people like Mogoeng propagating rape myths and reducing penalties even further. The message being sent out is that it’s easy to get away with rape. Chances are good that you won’t be reported, and even if you are, chances are you won’t make it to prosecution. If you’re unlucky enough to be convicted, your penalty won’t be particularly bad; and even then there’s a good chance of having it reduced.
It’s a simple case of incentive. If the number of reported and prosecuted rapes increased, the penalties were raised, and those in law enforcement were held accountable for their ignorant ideas regarding rape, rape rates would drop. All of these changes are within the power of law enforcement, and none of them involve dismantling the patriarchy or ending poverty overnight. Because they are possible and practically achievable, we can certainly and realistically expect law enforcement – including the SAPS – to reduce rape rates.
We need outspoken feminists to keep putting pressure on law enforcement, reminding them of these shortcomings and holding them accountable, in order to remind them that it is their responsibility to reduce rape rates, and they cannot pass the buck to greater societal issues.
For more about your rights as a survivor of a sexual offence, visit http://www.rapecrisis.org.za