A tragic tale of child abuse or just another police crime statistic?

Claudia Lopes
Claudia Lopes

By Claudia Lopes

Three years ago, a 6 week old baby girl, Jamie Naidoo, was saved from the brink of what could potentially have been a life of sexual servitude. While the odds that Jamie would lead a better life increased, after her father’s attempts at selling her to a man for R100 were foiled by the Durban Metro Police, this idealist hope was cruelly extinguished last week Thursday when her lifeless body was found at the home of her grandmother. Jamie had been tortured, raped and beaten to death. Her mother and grandmother have since been taken into custody. The Child Welfare Centre in Chatsworth, a non-profit organization which had placed this young girl in the care of these family members following a court order, had on previous visits with the family found no evidence of Jamie being mistreated. But surely somewhere along the line the system failed her, even if perhaps it started just as soon as the judicial system thought it prudent to return her to her family.

As we head into another 16 Days of Activism on No Violence against Women and Children one ponders what impact this annual campaign really has. While the 2013/2014 police crime statistics released earlier this year boasts a decrease of reported cases of sexual offences and rape, extracting any form of meaningful information on the rates of domestic violence is not as evident. The police, although expected to record this information, do not release this data but instead assign domestic violence cases to other categories of crimes i.e. common assault, assault with the intention to inflict grievous bodily harm, attempted murder and murder. Of these categories, murder was found to have increased by 3.5 %.

Whether the statistics reflect a decrease or an increase, the reality is that there is not a single day that goes by without one being confronted, in one way or another, by tales of a mistreated child or a young girl being gang raped; of a woman being killed by her intimate partner or a grandmother being physically and sexually assaulted. The loss experienced by each and every one of these victims, be it the loss of a life or the loss of one’s dignity and sense of safety and self-worth, is one loss too many.

The Chatsworth based Child Welfare Centre which had managed Jamie’s case reports that it deals with at least 5000 cases on an annual basis and due to lack of resources the organization is only able to employ 10 social workers to carry this workload. Let’s unpack what this really means: a case load of 5000 at a rate of 10 social workers equates to each social worker having an annual caseload of 500 or about 42 cases on a monthly basis. If one supposes that each social worker works a standard working week, i.e. 20 days a month, then he or she needs to provide practical and social support, care and/or supervision to at least two children a day – a situation far less than ideal and one which is untenable considering that a social workers job entails far more than attending to children.

The Welfare Centre is however not alone in this predicament. Most non-profit organizations are ill-funded, understaffed and overworked. Take shelters for abused women for instance, in 2012 and 2013, the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre undertook two provincial studies on shelters, one in Gauteng and the other in the Western Cape. Both studies revealed that shelters were significantly underfunded by the Department of Social Development. Not only was it a daily struggle to cover their financial short-falls but they were also not able to deliver the full bouquet of services that they needed to provide. The demand for shelter services was also far greater than they could meet. Although funding post these studies have increased quite positively, it remains insufficient. St. Anne’s Homes and Sisters Incorporated for example, two established and well-respected shelters in Cape Town, record that they are forced on average to turn away 40 women and their children every month due to space and financial restrictions, reinforcing yet again that South Africa has a significant problem of violence against women on its hands.

Although we all need to take responsibility to prevent violence against women and children, it is also the government’s duty to ensure that its citizens are safe and thus logically the state should be ensuring that organizations which provide social welfare services on behalf of the state (as this essentially should be government’s responsibility) are given adequate financial resources and support. Government pleads poverty when challenged to provide these resources yet there is not a year that has gone by that we have not heard about the maladministration of funds by this or that government department.

The year ahead looks bleak. The gradual dissolution of the National Gender Based Violence Council (which never really took off although it has cost thousands of Rands to establish) and recent shocking patriarchal and anti-feminist rhetoric at the launch of the new Ministry for Women’s 16 Days of Activism campaign, some serious questions need to be raised. One key question that comes to mind is what is government’s thinking on these issues and does it really deem addressing violence against women and children a political priority? With the 16 Days of Activism on the agenda for the next two weeks, one wonders how many resources government will be pumping into sporadic events across the country and what meaningful impact this will really have on the lives of children like Jamie, in the long-term. For Jamie though, it is sadly too late, she is now just another number on next year’s crime scorecard.

Claudia Lopes is a Programme Manager at the Heinrich Böll Foundation specializing in women’s rights activism, with a particular focus on violence against women.


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.