A new study by the Commission for Gender Equality investigating the policing of violence against women in South Africa has painted a grim picture of the capacity of the police to effectively tackle domestic violence.
The study‚ titled “Policing violence against women: Assessing local police station interventions”‚ came about after former president Jacob Zuma last year declared violence against women a priority crime.
The investigation analysed six SAPS police stations across three provinces. It highlights the challenges faced by these stations and the effectiveness of local programme interventions to combat gender-based violence.
“The findings presented in the main research report showed‚ without any doubt‚ that virtually all the police stations did not have clear‚ coherent and well-defined long-term programmes of action to tackle the scourge of domestic violence within their areas of jurisdiction‚” states the report.
Despite most police stations having the critical victim support center (VSC)‚ the investigation revealed that in many instances the VSCs were understaffed – some with only one volunteer staff member – or lacked basic furniture and office equipment.
Further observations revealed that the working relationship between the VSC and the police station was vague.
There was a lack of awareness-raising‚ for example through workshops – meaning many police stations did not have internal structures dedicated to dealing with gender-based violence as a special category of crime.
“[The] VSC as a structure is designed to make proactive interventions to curb gender-based violence within the community of the police station‚ but they [also] provide post-incident care‚ debriefing‚ psycho-social support‚ counselling and forensic medical support. The VSC is therefore a reactive/aftercare mechanism‚” states the report.
The report found that police stations relied on ordinary SAPS officers to handle and investigate cases of gender-based violence‚ in the same way they would handle any other crime. These officers often lacked the required training and skills‚ including thorough knowledge of the policy and legislative frameworks on gender rights‚ as well as the rights of victims of crimes.
“The study could not determine the extent to which the necessary training was being provided to ordinary SAPS officers to equip them with the skills and knowledge to handle gender-related crimes and violations of women’s rights‚” states the report.
“It was also clear that in many cases the station commanders interviewed for this study were not very familiar with some of the key provisions contained in the same policy and legislative frameworks.”
Shortcomings in institutional capacity included the availability of financial resources‚ equipment like police vehicles and other facilities necessary for police stations to operate effectively and fulfill their basic responsibilities.
“The capacity of the SAPS stations to handle effectively and curb gender violence‚ in line with national policy and programmes of action like the department of social development’s integrated programme of action‚ should be a key area of concern for the national gender machinery in South Africa‚” advises the report.
The report further recommends that:
SAPS develops an internal national programme of action to educate officers on key national policy and legislative frameworks dealing with gender-based violence;
multi-sectoral arrangements are developed with other key departments‚ including the department of social development the women’s ministry‚ and institutions such as the National Prosecuting Authority for collaborative working relations;
SAPS revives victim support centers and equip them with the capacity for effective proactive interventions; and
SAPS provides appropriate training to senior as well as ordinary officers to equip them with the necessary skills to plan for and implement effective medium- to long-term programmes of action to combat violence against women in their precincts.
The police stations surveyed were Rustenburg and Boitekong in the North West‚ Lebowakgomo and Seshego in Limpopo and East London and Berlin in the Eastern Cape.