South Africa’s rape kit crisis

One of the demands of #TotalShutDown last year was that the government must avail the list of police officers who were reported to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate for not helping victims of gender-based violence. Archive photo by Mzi Velapi

The shortage of rape kits at police stations around the country shows that the police are ill-equipped to combat violence against women.

Kraaifontein police station in Cape Town is one of many police stations in the province that do not have sexual assault evidence collection kits, or rape kits as they are commonly known. Anele Wondo, a member of the Youth Crime Prevention Desk at the police station raised it during the summit. “Our police station does not have a rape kit and from what we heard its not just our police station, it’s a national problem,” she said. According to a statement by the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) Shadow Minister of Police, Andrew Whitfield, the Western Cape has a shortage of over 4,000 rape kits for adults and over 34,000 for children.

The rape kit is a package of items required by medical personnel for gathering and preserving physical evidence following an allegation of sexual assault.

Elitsha learnt about this shameful situation at a two-day crime summit in Paarl that was hosted by the police ministry last month. During the press briefing, Elitsha asked the police minister for his comment on the rape kit shortage; the National Police Commissioner, General Khehla Sitole, responded, promising to act in seven days. It has been over 4 weeks since the summit and according to Wondo, they still do not have the rape kits at Kraaifontein police station.

According to the DA, the statistics were revealed by the National Police Commissioner after a request for information submitted by the party. Based on these, South Africa needs 128,048 rape kits for both adults and children but it currently has 93,343.

Wondo also works for Ithemba Support Group – a non-governmental organisation dedicated to social crime prevention among youth, and working with vulnerable groups. She said that the lack of rape kits is seriously affecting the prosecution of rape cases in the area. “The issue of reporting rape is still a huge problem as there are a lot of unreported rape cases in Kraaifontein,” she said.

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According to police crime statistics, Kraaifontein is one of the ten worst precincts in the country. In 2018, there were 154 cases of rape compared to 122 the previous year.

“If there are no rape kits, then that means there will be no people charged with rape, it’s that simple,” said Wondo.

In a media statement, Nonhlanhla Ncube-Ndaba, the chairperson of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, said that the shortage of rape kits at police stations would have “a profoundly negative impact on solving rape cases and hence [on] rape survivors.” According to Ncube-Ndaba, the shortage means that the police would not be able to do their job properly and that it is a serious failure of the justice system.

Following an initial investigation in 2018, the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) raised concerns about the police’s forensic capabilities and recommended that DNA testing should be administered in cases of domestic and gender-based violence. The CGE also raised concerns about the poor enforcement of protection orders by the police and that police officers should be trained to deal with cases of gender-based violence.

The police did not respond to questions by the time of publication.

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