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'The 8% conviction rate is disturbing' - How the justice system fails rape victims

Copper thieves are more likely to be convicted in South Africa than rapists. And in Gauteng and the Free State‚ many rapists are receiving suspended sentences rather than imprisonment.

This is despite the Minimum Sentences Act specifying the sentence for rape should be a minimum of 10 years in prison‚ if there are no extenuating circumstances.

The 2016-2017 annual report of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) shows a 91.8% conviction rate for copper theft.

A report titled: Rape Justice in South Africa‚ conducted by the Medical Research Council (MRC) on behalf of the NPA‚ however‚ reveals that only 8% of rapists brought to court are convicted.

The document‚ which was presented to police and prosecutors‚ shows dismal failings by police and prosecutors‚ from interviewing survivors‚ to tracing‚ arresting and prosecuting of suspects.

The report follows a similar Tracking Justice report by the MRC in 2008 which looked at Gauteng rape cases.

The research — the first national research of its kind in South Africa — was conducted on 3‚952 rape cases reported in 2012.

Of these cases‚ 94% of survivors were women‚ 46% children and 4.9% disabled‚ with 64% of the perpetrators known to the victims.

Researchers followed the cases over three years from when they were first reported to police‚ to the handing of dockets to prosecutors for a decision on whether to prosecute or not and the outcome of prosecutions.

The study looked at reasons for rape case attrition during their progression through the criminal justice system to strengthen investigations‚ prosecutions and case adjudication.

The report found that:

* 1‚264 adult perpetrators had previous convictions‚ 5% for rape;

* Police only visited 53% of crime scenes;

* In 50% of cases‚ where there were witnesses‚ no witness statements were taken;

* 42.2% of cases had no arrests;

* In 23% of the adult rape cases evidence collection kits were not sent to police forensic science laboratories; and

* In 17% of cases no rape survivor statement was taken.

Rachel Jewkes‚ MRC’s executive scientist for research strategy‚ said some of the adult rape evidence kits had been kept by investigators up to three years without being sent to forensic laboratories‚ “which is against national police instructions”.

She said their research found that in 57% of the cases involving children aged 12 to 17‚ police did not send the evidence kits to forensic laboratories.

“When it came to the rape of children under 12 years of age‚ 33.8% of the evidence kits were not sent to the laboratories.

“The implications are that there are cases out there where DNA‚ which could have been found‚ analysed and used to identify rapists‚ especially serial rapists‚ was never collected.”

She said in cases where evidence kits were sent to the forensic laboratories‚ and DNA identified‚ there was a 77% greater chance of securing a guilty plea during a trial.

Jewkes said in the 3‚952 cases‚ prosecutors only enrolled 1‚362 cases for trial.

When researchers examined the 1‚362 cases further they discovered that trials only started in 731 of the cases with just 340 of these finalised with a guilty verdict.

“The 8% conviction rate is disturbing‚ especially if you look at the resources going into solving a case. It means 92% of policing resources that go to solving these cases don’t end up with a positive resolution for victims.”

Jewkes said when it came to rapists’ sentencing‚ many sentences deviated from the prescribed 10-year minimum sentence.

“What’s shocking is that while 247 perpetrators were imprisoned; 68 of those convicted received suspended prison sentences. In Gauteng 36% of adults convicted for rape received a suspended sentence‚ while in the Free State 20% of adults convicted for rape received suspended sentences.

“We cannot understand how this is possible.”

She said researchers were frustrated by the lack of court transcripts to try understand the reasons for the suspended sentences.

“We spent two years trying to get the transcripts‚ with nearly 80% unattainable either because they were destroyed or missing.”

Jewkes said researchers found that in 23% of dockets where there were no arrests‚ the perpetrator had been identified and the victim wanted to proceed with the case.

“It’s mind-boggling why police never arrested the perpetrators.”

Jewkes said when it came to prosecutors‚ the reasons for non-prosecutions varied‚ and included the rigor of police investigations and the attack’s perceived severity.

“Prosecutors also screen out cases that are unlikely to result in a conviction because of questions about the victim’s character and their behaviour at the time of the rape.”

Police spokesman Bigadier Vish Naidoo police are “still busy studying the report and needs time to comprehensively review its content.”

Understanding rape in SA‚ based on data contained in the Rape Justice in South Africa research report‚ conducted by the Medical Research Council:

Rape by stranger:

- Most rapes occurred in open spaces‚ by a road or in alleys;

- Mpumalanga has the highest proportion of stranger rapes and lowest arrest rate;

- Northern Cape has the lowest stranger rape rate‚ but highest arrest rate;

 - 72.5% of stranger rapes are unsolved;

- At the start of trials‚ 20% of perpetrators pleaded guilty;

- 4.8% of stranger rapes lead to convictions;

- 79.4% of cases involve physical force;

- 55.2% involve weapons;

- 54% involve abduction;

- 20.3% involve collusion or assistance from others

- 33.3% of black victims are raped by strangers

Rape by known person:

- Most occurred in homes;

- Western Cape has the highest proportion of intimate partner rapes;

- At the start of trials‚ 20% of perpetrators pleaded guilty;

- 24% are unsolved;

- Only 7% of intimate partner perpetrators pleaded guilty; and

- Known perpetrators are less likely to be arrested when complainant is disabled and complainant is white‚ Indian or coloured compared to black survivors

Prison sentences by numbers:

- 29 life sentences;

- 109‚ 10 year sentences;

- 91 sentences between six and 10 year; and

- 62 less than five year sentences.

Provinces by numbers:

- Gauteng has the number of cases accepted for prosecution [26%];

- Gauteng only has 6.5% of cases concluded with a guilty verdict;

- Northern Cape the most cases accepted for prosecution [48%];

- Northern Cape has the most cases going to trial [21.7%] ;

- North West Province had the lowest case conviction rate [4.5%];

- Free State has the highest case conviction rate [12.6%];

- North West Province has the highest proportion of multiple perpetrator rapes;

- KwaZulu-Natal has the highest proportions of child rapes and rapes by relatives;

- Northern Cape and Limpopo have the highest number of arrests for cases [68%] and [63.8%];

- Gauteng and Mpumalanga are the worst when it comes to arrests for rape at 50% and 49.4% respectively; and

- Northern Cape and Limpopo have the most arrests at 68% and 63%.