Families of the victims of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) say the criminal justice system is failing them. They say alleged perpetrators are set free by the police and the courts, which inflicts secondary trauma for them when they encounter the perpetrators in the community.
However, police say some of the victims are equally to blame especially when they decide to drop the case. This came out during a safety outreach programme in Alexandra north of Johannesburg.
The programme was organised by the Gauteng Community Safety Department following a spate of murders and rape of women and children in the township.
A 20-year-old Alexandra woman was inconsolable as she bemoaned the loss of her aunt, strangled to death allegedly by her husband last year. Now, she is forced to be the mother to the deceased woman’s child. The alleged perpetrator is out on bail pending the outcomes of the toxicology report to determine what might have caused the foam found coming out of the deceased mouth.
However, the fact that she comes across the alleged perpetrator from time to time who resides within the community, she feels let down by the criminal justice system.
“The South African criminal justice system is always failing us, especially us victims. How does the person who took the life of my loved one, how do they expect me to live.”
A few meters away, a blind mother fears for her life as she is constantly harassed by a group of men who wants her to drop a case she opened against their tenant after the community found the alleged perpetrator on top of her 14-year-old daughter attempting to rape her. She cannot be named as this might identify the young victim.
She says she regarded her tenant as her own child.
“I took him as my own child, and even my daughter regarded him as her elder brother. Even when I had nothing, he would give me something or buy me a cooldrink and I would also give him food. I never thought ill of him. I cannot sleep at night when I hear some noise, I wake up. Even now they want me to drop the case.”
The Gauteng Community Safety Department says there are more of such cases. In 2016, a 48-year-old man was arrested for allegedly raping five young children who were then between the ages of 5 and 10-years-old. The accused is in jail and the case is ongoing.
The department’s Conny Ramathibela says their visit to Alexandra was also to update the victim’s families on the statuses of their cases. She says Alexandra has one of the highest number of reported Gender-Based Violence incidents in Gauteng.
“Like on the annual stats that were shared, cases of Gender-Based Violence were about 10 000 and more. And with the Alexandra part, there were more cases in the 30 hotspot police stations. Alexandra is one of them with sexual offences cases. I think there is more to these stats because some of these cases do not get reported.”
Ramathibela and her delegation also visited a family where a man shot at his partner but the bullet only grazed her head. She still bears a fresh wound from the incident. She says in such a clear case of domestic violence, sometimes women drop the cases because of poverty where the man is the breadwinner.
“The cases they get negotiated. They call it out-of-court settlement. Like this particular case we are in now … the partner has withdrawn the case and the case was so serious the perpetrator almost killed the woman with a gun.”
The department says it offers counseling and other forms of support to the victims and their families on an ongoing basis and as part of their oversight role they will ensure they keep pressure on the police to ensure there’s progress on criminal cases opened.