The real numbers on sexual offences — Rape Crisis Cape Town Blog

A piece published by Rape Crisis Cape Town today points to the scary realities around reporting rapes and the likelihood of a conviction. Less than 1% of sexual offences result in justice for the victims. Follow the link to their website below for the full piece.

In South Africa less than 1% of sexual offences result in justice for the victims of these crimes. The estimated number of sexual offences in South Africa is 645 580 each year and only one in 13 of these sexual offences are reported to the police. In other words, only 7,7% of sexual offences that […]

via The real numbers on sexual offences — Rape Crisis Cape Town Blog


Female State of the Nation: Part 4: Crime and Human Rights

Jen Thorpe, feminism, South Africa, feminist
Jen Thorpe

By Jen Thorpe

Read Part 1 ‘Where are We’, Part 2 ‘Women and the Economy‘, Part 3: ‘Energy and the Environment

As South Africans it seems that it is impossible to go a day without seeing a news headline of a violent attack in some form. Between 2006 and 2013, more than one million crimes were committed against women. Common assault was the most common contact crime, followed by assault with the intent to commit grievous bodily harm. The Table below provides a breakdown of the SAPS statistics.

But before you get there, statistics of this scale are often hard to process. It’s difficult to imagine what more they represent. So when you see these numbers, I want you to think of the images you know of the 1956 women’s march that changed our history. In that march, there were roughly 20 000 women.

Crimes against women 2006 – 2013[1]

Year Murder Sexual Offences Serious assault (assault GBH) Common assault Total
2006/7 2 602 34 816 69 132 100 390 206 940
2007/8 2 544 31 328 64 084 94 286 192 242
2008/9 2 436 30 124 61 509 91 390 185 459
2009/10 2 457 36 093 62 143 94 176 194 869
2010/11 2 594 35 820 60 630 89 956 189 000
2011/12 2 286 31 299 57 345 87 191 178 121
2012/13 2 266 29 928 55 320 83 394 170 908
Total for crime category 2006 – 2013 17 185 229 408 430 163 640 783 1 317 539

It’s unfortunate that the crime statistics are not reported in a gender-disaggregated way each year that would allow us to track what types of crimes women are reporting. In 2012/13 however, the SAPS did report in this way, as detailed in the table above. In that year, adult females were more likely than adult males and children to be the victim of sexual offences and common assault. In terms of the total number of crimes, sexual offences against adult females represented 45 percent of all sexual offences, and common assault against adult females represented 48 percent of all common assaults.

So it’s clear that women are more likely to report certain types of crimes – namely sexual offences and common assaults. It’s possible to conclude that these common assaults represent some of the domestic violence statistics which, although tracked daily by the SAPS, have never been reported on.

It is important therefore for those listening to SONA to consider what commitments have been made to women in terms of protecting them from crime both outside and within the home. In the 2014 SONA the only commitment made was that the Government would ‘work to reduce levels of crime’. Following the deaths of Anene Booysen, Anni Dewani, and Reeva Steenkamp, a great deal of noise was made by many Government representatives from all parties about the need to address crimes against women. But now that noise has become an almost inaudible murmur.

Two years ago the Government via the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities launched the National Council on Gender Based Violence (NCGBV). This council was formed to address and monitor high levels of violence against women, as well as to consider strategies to prevent further violence. During 2014, after finalising its identity, the Council seemed to disappear. Another commitment made was the development of new sexual offences courts and the refurbishment of existing courts to become sexual offences courts. This is another development which seems to have disappeared from the agenda. There is also an inter-ministerial committee on violence against women. Yet, the relevant departments are not working together to improve the lives of survivors in a way that is evident, efficient or speedy enough. If these commitments are not discussed tonight, why not? If there is not sufficient budget for these important services, where is that money being redirected to?

Of course, as I explained in Part 1 a useful term to understand is intersectionality. That is, the intersection of various forms of oppression on different people. With crime and violence, it is true that certain categories of women are more vulnerable.

Sex workers currently face a number of human rights violations because of the criminalisation of the sale of sex in South Africa. These have been well documented by organisations like the Women’s Legal Centre and the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce. Excellent arguments exist for decriminalising sex work, and ensuring that sex workers are able to perform their work without fear of violence from police, and from perpetrators.

Violence against Lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women is also prevalent, and there has unfortunately been a move away from South Africa’s active championship of LGBTI rights on the continent. The National Task Team on Hate Crimes was formed in 2011, and since then the Department of Justice has made several commitments to introduce new legislation to support LGBTI victims of violence. However, four years later this has not happened. This failure to amend existing legislation to enhance sentences for hate crimes, or to introduce new legislation that will effectively allow for the tracking of these incidents and the prevention thereof, is an indication of a lack of political will to really support the right to be free from discrimination and violence on the basis of sexual orientation. South Africa’s failure to criticise other African states for ‘anti-gay’ laws indicates that we have moved back from the leadership role on these issues. In 2014, a transgender woman undertook a hunger strike after Home Affairs repeatedly failed to assist her in changing the sex status on her ID document.

This is not the time to be inactive or complacent about violence against women. There is a need to identify this as a core issue in tonight’s SONA, and if not, to question how the problem will be addressed in the 2015/16 period.



[1] South African Institute of Race Relations (2013) Page 770.


Keeping women “safe” can be dangerous

Joy Watson
Joy Watson

by Joy Watson


Rape stats not improving, court stats even worse

The recently released crime statistics indicate a slight drop in the number of reported cases of sexual offences, from 66 387 in 2012/13 to 62 649 in 2013/14. Over the course of the past few years, the trend has been to drop, then increase again and then drop again at different points in time. In 2004/05, for example, there were 69 117 reported cases. By 2007/08, this had dropped to 63 818. In 2008/09, it increased again to 70 514, dropped to 64 514 in 2011/12 and then increased to 66 387 in 2012/13.

The pattern that emerges is not one of a steady decline as a result of a coherent, targeted strategy to eradicate sexual offences. Equally concerning, is the fact a small fraction of the total number of reported cases eventually go to court. In 2007/08, 6.8% of the total number of sexual offences went to court. Of the total number of cases reported to the police, 4.5% resulted in convictions. This improved marginally in 2008/09, when 7.5% of the total cases reported went to court and 5% of the total cases reported resulted in convictions. For the next two years, there was no reporting on the related statistics. In 2011/12, there was a marginal improvement with 10.7% of the total number of reported cases going to court and 6.97% of the total cases reported resulted in convictions. The subliminal message is abundantly clear – a rapist has to be extremely unlucky to get convicted.

The reasons for the vast majority of sexual offences cases not going to court varies. Some cases are eventually withdrawn by the victim, largely as a result of secondary victimisation in the criminal justice system. In other instances, the National Prosecuting Authority will drop a case if it seems as if though there is not enough evidence to support it. This is a contentious matter as forensic evidence is an important part of deciding whether or not a case can potentially be won in court.  Yet, there are significant delays in securing forensic evidence and even where it is secured, the accused can argue that sex was consensual.

We need new strategies

The fact that there is no coherent, inter-departmental strategy on the part of the state to deal with rape is one of the main reasons why we see no real improvement in addressing the issue of rape.

Much of the state and media discourse in this regard has focused on the notion of protectionism, namely, that women need to be kept safe from harm and navigate their way cautiously in public spaces, particularly at night. Embedded within this narrative of danger is the underlying view that “bad” women ask for trouble, and that women who conform to the tacit rules of how to dress, where to walk, when to be out etc., will be “safe”. Restrictions on women’s mobility are therefore sanctioned by rationalizing that it is in the interest of their safety.

Yet, rape has confounded this myth. Even “good” women who conform to the rules have been raped and the disproportionate focus on the danger to women in public spaces appears to ignore the reality that women seem to face more violence in private rather than public spaces.

Furthermore, the language of protection and safety is couched within a problematic framework of concern for women’s sexual virtue. It obliterates the fact that the everyday acts of violence such as catcalls and comments directed at women on the streets are linked to more brutal forms of violence such as rape. These daily, repetitive acts of intrusion and harassment which women are expected to take in their stride, creates the kind of social context where more brutal forms of harassment can take place.

In the longer term, the better strategy is for women to enhance their claim to public spaces as notions of protectionism and keeping women safe ultimately limit life choices and restrict mobility. This in itself can be seen as a form of violence. In the process of doing this, violence is something that needs to be contended with and addressed at its roots, that of structural social inequity. This will require that we think differently about violence against women – placing it not in opposition to risk and pleasure, but alongside them and understanding what these terms mean in their own right and when connected to each other.




EVENT!! Stopping Gender-based Violence – Whose job is it anyway?

Stopping Gender-based Violence – Whose job is it anyway?

Thursday 29 August 2013
IA Hall
Next to SA Jewish Museum, 88 Hatfield Street, Gardens

Although our Constitution and Sexual Offences and Related Matters Amendment Act enshrine the right to live free from violence and sexual assault, South Africa has one of the highest incidents of rape in the world. In 2011/12 alone, 9 193 sexual offences were reported in the Western Cape – an average of just under 27 cases per day. Set against a background of poverty, easy access to drugs and HIV infection, many victims do not report having been raped, as they have little faith in our criminal justice system. South Africa is reaching a tipping point on rape, and thus a nationwide conversation needs to take place between government, academia and civil society.

On 29 August, the Cape SA Jewish Board of Deputies, Sonke Gender Justice, Catholic Methodist Mission and Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust are facilitating a Transformation Conversation open to the public to discuss the shared roles government, civil society, faith-based leaders and private citizens should play in order to eliminate this shameful scourge in our society.


  • Melanie Judge, gender activist and event moderator
  • Kathleen Dey, Director, Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust
  • Desmond Lesejane, Deputy Director, Sonke Gender Justice
  • Reverend Alan Storey, Central Methodist Mission Cape Town
  • Dr. Zethu Matebeni, UCT Humanities Research Institute


The media is welcome to attend. To RSVP, please contact Dan Brotman, Head of Media & Public Affairs, Cape SA Jewish Board of Deputies at 082 797 5445 or



PRESS RELEASE: Harmful Provisions of the Sexual Offences Act declared unconstitutional!

17 January 2013
On 15 January 2013 the Pretoria High Court declared sections 15 and 16 of the Sexual Offences Act unconstitutional. This is a great victory for the constitutional rights of children, especially girl children. The Women’s Legal Center acted as a friend of the Court, together with the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre (TLAC), in order to emphasise to the court the discriminatory and disproportionate effects of these sections on girls between the ages of 12 and 15 in South Africa.

Before the judgment, sections 15 and 16 of the Sexual Offences Act made it a crime for children between the ages of 12 and 15 to engage in any and all conduct of a consensual, sexual nature – including hand-holding, cuddling, kissing, and other behaviors part of a normal adolescent sexual development. The court agreed that apart from creating strange anomalies, when read with other laws relating to children, these sections infringe a range of children’s constitutional rights, including equality, and are not rationally connected to the purpose the state claims it sought to achieve with these sections. The court found that the state had failed to provide any evidence that criminalising normal, consensual teenage sexual behavior would deter or regulate unhealthy sexual conduct by teens, or that such criminalisation would provide “protection” to children – a point that was conceded by the state in legal argument. The court found that exposing children to the criminal justice system would only result in trauma and stigmatisation, whereas what is required is open and frank discussion between children and adults about positive sexual behavior.

Sanja Bornman, attorney at the Women’s Legal Centre, says “These provisions were particularly harmful for girl children, as girls can bear a physical marker of sexual intercourse in the form of pregnancy, where boys do not. Girls would thus be ‘easy targets’ for prosecution under these misguided laws. Far from deterring risky sexual behavior, these sections would have promoted it by discouraging girls from reporting rape for fear that they might instead be charged with so-called ‘consensual sexual penetration/violation’.”
Acting Director at TLAC, Nicky Vienings, asserts “Should girls experience a defamatory and negative interaction with the legal system at an early age for an incidence which is deemed ‘unlawful/criminal’, but is in fact part of their natural development in sexual exploration, they would be less likely to report any incidences of sexual or domestic violence that may be perpetrated against them later in their lives. This not only puts them at risk, but also lends itself to girls experiencing deep psychological scarring from the discrimination they would experience from the state and quite possibly from the communities in which they live.”

“The Department of Justice has been reported as saying the judgment has far-reaching implications in the escalating rate of sexual violence among children under the age of 16 years. But this shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the issue. It is irrational to suggest that criminalising children’s normal consensual sexual behaviour will result in a decrease in child rape or sexual assault, which is covered by entirely different sections in the Sexual Offences Act.” concludes Bornman.

Issued by the Women’s Legal Centre.

For more information, contact:
Sanja Bornman (WLC): 083 522 2933
Nicky Vienings (TLAC): 011 403 4267

About the Women’s Legal Centre

The WLC is a non-profit, independently funded law Centre, started by a group of lawyers in Cape Town in 1999, with a vision to achieve equality for women in South Africa. The Centre has identified five strategic focus areas. These are: violence against women; fair access to resources in relationships; access to land/housing; access to fair labour practices; and access to health care (particularly reproductive health care).

The WLC has been at the forefront of legal reform in relation to women’s equality in South Africa since the Constitution came into effect, having won several precedent setting cases in the past.

The WLC is targeting socio-economic rights of women as an important area for advancement by litigation and advocacy, and will challenge the most unenviable forms of indirect discrimination that act to prevent women from achieving real equality.

In order to empower women through knowledge of their rights, the Centre also offers free legal advice to women. Women are assisted or referred to the relevant body, NGO or court for assistance.
About the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre

The Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre to End Violence Against Women (TLAC) is a non-profit organisation that promotes and defends the rights of women to be free from violence and to have access to appropriate and adequate services. Our key activities include research and policy development, litigation and advocacy, training and public awareness.

The organisation was established in 1996 and in the same year its first Director, Joanne Fedler, became a member of the South African Law Reform Commission’s Project Committee which drafted the 1998 Domestic Violence Act. Since then the organisation has argued before the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal, as well as appeared before a number of parliamentary committees to present its research and law reform proposals. In 2011 Tshwaranang was accredited as a law clinic.