ISS Seminar, Pretoria: So why do the numbers keep rising? A reflection on efforts to prevent and respond to domestic violence and rape


On 27 October the Crime and Justice Programme held a public seminar to consider research findings in relation to the perpetration of gender-based violence, and the extent to which the state has been able to implement the Sexual Offences Amendment Act and the Domestic Violence Act. The seminar also launched the latest edition of South African Crime Quarterly, No. 37 that includes articles by Lillian Artz, Jameelah Omar, Leon Holtzhauzen

The seminar was attended by 30 participants from academia, inter-governmental organisations, government departments and NGOs.

Gender-based violence in South Africa

On average seven women were murdered every day in South Africa between March 2010 and March 2011, according to the police crime statistics released in September 2011. At least half of these murders will have been at the hands of intimate partners. During that same period the police recorded 89 956 cases of common assault against women (247 cases a day) and 56 272 cases of rape (154 a day). The police did not provide a breakdown of the statistics such that it was possible to determine the extent to which domestic violence (or intimate partner violence) contributed to the statistics for assault, attempted murder and murder, yet recent research by the Medical Research Council and Genderlinks shows that more than half of the women in Gauteng have experienced some sort of violence at the hands of their intimate partners and about 80% of men disclose having perpetrated such violence. At the same time, young black men remain more likely than any other demographic group to be the victims of homicide. These data suggest that understanding the gendered nature of violence in South Africa is essential to finding ways to address and reduce violent crime.

In this seminar Prof Rachel Jewkes, Director of the Medical Research Council’s Gender and Health Research Unit presented the findings of gender-based violence prevalence studies, she reported on measured attitudinal changes towards gender-equality, and concluded with reflections on whether we are doing enough of the right interventions. Prof Jewkes showed that while women’s and perceived community attitudes towards gender equality have changed, positively, since 1998 this does not seem to have had any effect on the perpetration of gender-based violence. She presented data about the extent of gender-based violence (GBV) perpetration in South Africa and discussed the multiplicity of factors that drive GBV. She concluded by offering a range of recommendations for addressing GBV, but perhaps most importantly questioned our reliance on the criminal justice system to address rape and intimate partner violence, arguing that changing behavior requires early intervention. Such interventions could include programmes to improve parenting, to keep young men busy after school to reduce the amount of time they ‘hang-out’, to address teen views on sexual entitlement and to address substance abuse.  

Our second speaker, Lisa Vetten, Director of Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre to End Violence Against Women reported on a study that examined selected government departments’ implementation of the 1998 Domestic Violence Act, as well as other associated policies. Patchy implementation of current legislation, she argued, undermined both responses to victims of domestic violence, as well its prevention. Her presentation drew on a recent report by the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre to End Violence Against Women titled “The Right and the Real: A shadow report analyzing selected government departments’ implementation of the 1998 Domestic Violence Act and 2007 Sexual Offences Act.’ The report examined the actions (and inaction) of the police, Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, the National Prosecuting Authority and supporting departments towards implementation of the legislation. It concluded that implementation of the DVA has “stagnated and the SOA to be largely stillborn, with officials neither routinely expected to justify or explain their (in)action, nor consequences following from their non-implementation of legislation. The failures occur at multiple levels and across a range of dimensions.”

Professor Rachel Jewkes’s presentation, titled Preventing gender-based violence: are we any closer? can be downloaded here. You can also listen to a interview with Rachel Jewkes in this podcast.

Lisa Vetten’s presentation titled: The Right and Real: An assessment of government departments’ implementation of the 1998 Domestic Violence Act and 2007 Sexual Offences Act.can be downloaded here.

This seminar is made possible by funding from the Hanns Seidel Foundation.  


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