How Do We Curb Domestic Violence, If Crime Statistics Do Not Reflect It?

Cape Times (South Africa), September 15, 2011 | Go to article overview

How Do We Curb Domestic Violence, If Crime Statistics Do Not Reflect It?


Last week, Police Minister Nathi Mthetwa released annual crime statistics for 2010-2011. On average, crime has decreased and the murder rate dropped by 6.5 percent. However, there was a 5.6 percent increase in the number of women murdered. Yet, police claim violence against women and children is a priority.

Reported sexual offences dropped by 3.1 percent (there were 35 820 reported cases against women and 28 128 against children). The number of rape cases increased from an already alarmingly high of 55 097 to 56 272. Mthetwa acknowledged that the actual number could be much higher since many go unreported.

In the 10 years since the 1998 Domestic Violence Act (DVA) came into force, domestic violence remains a crime which receives scant attention and is not logged in the SAPS annual crime statistics. Most cases are recorded as assault or assault with the intent to cause grievous bodily harm.

The SADC Protocol on Gender and Development calls on states to halve levels of gender-based violence by 2015, but how is this measured if we do not gather relevant statistics? Although the 2011 Crime Situation Report acknowledges most crime is perpetrated by someone the victim knows - hence the name "social crime" - it is silent about crime that occurs in the home. This ranges from common assault to murder, marital rape and contravention of protection orders.

Consider this example reported in Sowetan on Monday: Bossie Phungula, husband to Annie Phungula, admitted to stabbing his wife five times, pouring petrol over her and setting her alight last year. This led to Annie Phungula's death four months later, and occurred in the home in front of their children and maid. A year later, Bossie Phungula was released due to "lack of evidence". Such a repulsive state of affairs is one reason it is so unfortunate that national crime statistics remain silent on domestic violence.

A 2010 review conducted by Gender Links and the South African Medical Research Council (MRC), titled "The War at Home", provides a detailed analysis of how gender-based violence can be measured. In this paper, gender-based violence includes physical, sexual, psychological and economic intimate partner violence; rape and sexual assault by a partner, acquaintance or family member; and sexual harassment at school or work. The research further notes that in the period 2008-2009, 15 307 cases of domestic violence were opened in Gauteng and 12 093 cases involved a female victim.

The study involved a household survey. It revealed that 18.1 percent of women had been abused at least once in the 12 months preceding the survey, while 29 percent of men had abused their partner in a similar time-period.

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