Brave women and burnt-out cops

| Adam Armstrong
Funeka Soldaat smiles warmly during the interval after her testimony. Photo by Adam Armstrong.

Funeka Soldaat told the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry how she had been raped by a group of young men because she is a lesbian. She testified that she is a survivor of “corrective rape”.

Soldaat is a founder of Free Gender, an organisation that campaigns for the rights of gay and lesbian people in Khayelitsha. The organisation has monthly meetings with the police. Soldaat said that while their relationship with senior SAPS members is good, the police on the ground often express homophobic attitudes or act unprofessionally and disrespectfully.

Today, Dr Genine Josias gave testimony. She is the Medical Coordinator at the Khayelitsha Thuthezela Forensic Centre (the Centre). She has been involved in providing and coordinating medical and psychological support to victims of sexual violence for many years. The Centre is the first point of call for people after a sexual assault. It provides psychological and medical support, and gathers evidence physical evidence from the victim. This evidence is then handed to a SAPS Investigating Officer (IO).

Dr Josias during the lunch interval. On the table next to her is a copy of the Die Son article about the rape kits that were left in Delft. Photo by Adam Armstrong.

The doctor’s testimony was not comforting. She outlined a number of cases in which the IOs did not follow up or meet with survivors or perform rudimentary investigations. Numerous complaints have been submitted to the Thuthezela Centre about the behaviour of IOs. We heard a long list cases in which IOs did not arrive for scheduled meetings. There were cases mentioned in which the perpetrator was known to the survivor though no arrest was made and no explanation was offered to the victim. In other cases, the IO did not have a cell phone or petrol available to meet with clients at Red Cross hospital. An IO is meant to be at the Centre half an hour after the new case has been logged. The usual waiting time is between 2 and 8 hours.

Shockingly, in 2011, a number of rape kits that had been collected from the Centre were dumped on a field in Delft. These were signed out of the Centre and received by the IO in good order. Some of the evidence had been gathered by Dr Josias and her colleagues 21 months prior to the rape kits being found in Delft. It is unclear what happened to the cases or the survivors of these various rapes.

Dr Josias spoke of the toll the job takes on IOs. She spoke empathetically of how burnt out they are as a result of the difficult work they do. The IOs are often irritable and rude to survivors of rape. In the last two years, the number of IOs assigned to sexual violence cases in Khayelitsha was reduced from 30 to less than 20. In response to this, Dr Josias and her team wrote a letter to senior SAPS officers on 21 March 2013. She has seen no change in response.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous what they expect these people to do,” Dr Josias said. The investigating officers at the centre have about 180 cases. Dr Josias compared this to Muizenberg where she said the officers have 18.

When asked about the employee wellness services offered to SAPS officers, Dr Josias dismissed these as unhelpful. “It is used against you, especially if opportunities for promotion come up … within the police it is seen as weak if you use the wellness services.”

She explained that SAPS senior management are not responsive to the needs of their staff or the community. The number of cases that are closed without proper investigation is staggering. In many instances SAPS officials are not adhering to guidelines for treatment of victims of sexual violence, or even basic rules of evidence collection.

The evidence provided by Dr Josias today and Funeka Soldaat yesterday paints a picture of a SAPS that is unable to serve its community, particularly during difficult times. The most vulnerable, women and children who have been sexually assaulted, are not getting basic police support.

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TOPICS:  Crime Human Rights Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry into Policing National Provincial

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