Research & Innovation 2015-16 - Page 45

Complainants who are perceived to have precipitated
their own victimisation, whether through their conduct
or their relationship to the perpetrator, are at a
particular disadvantage.
Police’s story
The police tell a different story. At least, in South
Africa they do. Theirs is a tale of uncooperative
victims. Police talk about complainants who cynically
use the criminal justice system, fabricating or
exaggerating rape complaints to further their own
instrumental goals – of revenge or extortion, mostly –
or to explain away their sexual misdemeanours.
The police argue that even when they are sympathetic
and helpful, large numbers of victims withdraw valid
complaints, refusing to cooperate in the investigation
and prosecution of the aggressor.
These police officers have been through many hours
of sensitivity training. They can reel off the 10 biggest
rape myths, and they care about bringing rapists to
justice; but they maintain that if complainants do not
cooperate, there is little that can be done to pursue
the case.
Their discontent runs along the following lines:
investigating rape complaints is often a frustrating
waste of time, and the effort required to investigate
those cases needs to be weighed against other urgent
organisational pressures and priorities, particularly in
a resource-constrained environment such as South
Africa. They argue that South Africa is fighting a “war on
crime”, and the police are the vanguard. If rape victims
are not serious about their own cases, they have only
themselves to blame if they don’t get justice.
Why the blame game is unhelpful
Simplistic accounts of uncooperative and
prevaricating victims on the one hand, and
unsympathetic misogynist cops on the other, do
not take us any further towards understanding the
dynamics of rape attrition.
If the police are correct in their estimation, we are
dealing with tens of thousands of deceitful women
who are placing an intolerable strain on the system
and its very limited resources.
If women’s-rights activists are correct, the police
remain deeply and irredeemably misogynist
in culture and in practice. When nine out of 10
reported cases are not prosecuted (and two out
of three are not even referred to the prosecutor
for a determination), we are faced with a massive
systemic failure that needs to be understood.
When the numbers are as substantial as they are in
South Africa, the problem becomes urgent.
Understanding this phenomenon is therefore at
the centre of identifying ways to strengthen and
develop police and civil society interventions, and
to effect meaningful access to justice for victims of
sexual offences.
Rape Unresolved: policing sexual offences in South
Africa by Dee Smythe is published by UCT Press. Dee
Smythe is a professor in the Department of Law.
Victim recalcitrance and systematic failures
The stories I collected in my research reflect
evidence of both victim recalcitrance and systemic
failures. They cannot be neatly parsed. A picture
unfolds of attrition as deriving from the
complex interaction of individual, structural
and systemic factors.
While it is likely that the factors
identified in my research share
similarities with those of other, more
developed countries, it is also arguable
that many of them – and the way in
which they combine – are reflective of
the social and institutional dynamics
of a developing country, and even
more specifically, of the transitional
post-apartheid South African milieu.
Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions 40

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