The lockdown period saw a drop in reported cases of gender-based violence, but this doesn't mean we should celebrate as arrest and conviction rates for reported cases are shockingly low.
Lockdown conditions appear to have dramatically shifted the state of gender-based violence (GBV) in Gauteng, according to official statistics.
But concerned bodies have cautioned that a drop in cases did not necessarily mean there were fewer women facing abuse and violence from men during the protracted Covid-19 lockdown in South Africa.
Answering questions by Democratic Alliance (DA) MPL Refiloe Nt’sheke, Gauteng community safety MEC Faith Mazibuko revealed that between the 1 March and the 30 April this year, 5,082 GBV-related cases were opened at Gauteng police stations. During the same period last year, 15,929 cases were reported, indicating a decline of nearly two thirds.
This data also seemed to support Police Minister Bheki Cele’s earlier claims that his department’s crackdown on alcohol sales had reduced incidences of violent crimes, including GBV.
But these were not figures to celebrate, suggested spokesperson for Sonke Gender Justice Bafana Khumalo. Not least of all, because of the relatively low rate at which cases were eventually followed up and the probability that lockdown conditions prevented thousands of women from reporting these crimes in the first place.
“I mean that is not really a statistic anyone should celebrate, because 5,000 cases of gender based violence remains very high. It might have dropped from last year, but I think there are a lot of reasons why this may be so. For instance, a lot of women have been caught up with their perpertators in the same house,” said Khumalo.
The increased freedom of movement under lockdown level 3 could see these figures sky-rocket, warned Bafana. This is owing to the statistically high prevalence of alcohol-related cases of GBV, which could see a resurgence with the unbanning of alcohol.
More cases were likely to end up being reported in the coming weeks, Khumalo added, as women were allowed more freedom of movement. But this same movement could also put women in more danger of violence outside the home.
Nt’sheke echoed Khumalo’s concerns, adding that the figures indicated very little action being taken against perpetrators of gender-based violence, despite the police having fewer cases to deal with. Of the over 5,000 cases opened only 3,373 warrants of arrest were issued, resulting in only 204 convictions.
“It is very worrying that there is a low conviction rate, which clearly indicates that its either the justice system that is failing our people, or the police are failing to properly investigate these cases,” said Nt’sheke in a statement.
Gauteng was statistically the most violent against women and children. Last year’s police data revealed that Gauteng had 53,837 reported cases of crimes against women and children, followed by the Western Cape with 46,092 reported cases, and Kwa-Zulu Natal with 33,667.
Low conviction rate “very worrying”?
The DA in Gauteng has called for an investigation into why, despite the increase in cases of gender-based violence, there are so few convictions.
“The lack of adequate investigation of gender-based violence cases has resulted in many cases being taken off the court roll due to a lack of sufficient evidence that can lead to prosecution,” Nt’sekhe said.
It is high time that cases of gender-based violence are prioritised to ensure justice for the victims.
“The DA calls on MEC Mazibuko to investigate why there is such a low conviction rate on gender-based violence cases, to ensure that the victims get the justice they deserve,” she said.