Sexual Offences: What do the numbers say?
By: Siyabulela Tonono
On the 12 September 2019, the South African Police Services (SAPS) released its annual crime statistics for the year 2018/9. The statistics are the number of crimes that have been reported in police stations across South Africa for the period between April 2018 and March 2019. Let us briefly reflect on the crime statistics with a focus on the sexual offences. The numbers reveal particular trends that are vital for the way we, as faith communities, respond to sexual violence.
Nationally there were 52420 sexual offences reported at police stations, which is a 4.6% increase from the previous year. The three most significant contributors to the national total were the Gauteng Province (10752), KwaZulu Natal (9308) and the Eastern Cape (8731). When added together, these three provinces account for 54% of the cases reported in the country. Mpumalanga had the highest percentage increase from the previous year with 8.5%. These numbers give us a sense of which provinces can be considered as “hotspots” for sexual offences in the country. Such numbers call on faith communities to critically reflect on the ministries we can offer to God’s people who have survived such crimes.
These statistics were taken from police stations in communities across the country and thus enable us to zoom in to the communities that report the highest number of sexual offences. Inanda Police Station in KZN (385), Umlazi Police Station in KZN (301) and Thohoyandou Police Station in Limpopo (297) reported the most sexual offences in the country. The top 30 police stations with most sexual offences account for 13% of all sexual offences in the country. That means in 2018/9, 3% of police stations in the country accounted for 13% of the country’s sexual offences. Essentially, what the numbers reveal is that there is a disproportionately high number of sexual violence in those communities. Congregations are called to deeper reflection and discernment on addressing the sexual violence that is so prevalent in our communities.
The South African Council of Churches claims that there are no less than ten churches in every ward in South Africa. Given that South Africa has over 4000 wards, there over 40 000 Christian churches in South Africa. If we consider other faiths, there are far more faith communities across our country. Contrast these numbers with the 1128 police stations that South Africa has, and it should be clear that Faith communities are far better resourced to contribute to addressing sexual violence in the country. Faith communities are best placed to support “a vibrant, growing and vocal movement of survivors of sexual and gender-based violence" as intended by WWSOSA. By supporting survivor movements, local congregations can create places of healing within the pews.
These numbers only reflect the reported cases of sexual offences. Organizations, activists and researchers working on sexual violence in South Africa suggest that SAPS statistics on sexual offences are an underrepresentation of sexual violence in the country because of the high levels of sexual offences that go unreported. The performance of stations, station commanders and other SAPS officials is linked to the statistics, as there is considerable motivation for some cases not to be reported and that can call into question the trustworthiness of these statistics.
There is no certainty as to the causes of the increase in sexual offences. It may be viewed as a success of advocacy efforts that have resulted in more cases being reported, or it may be because South Africa is failing to address its sexual violence crisis. What is, however, certain is that faith communities have a lot of work ahead.
When all is said and done, crime statistics in South Africa merely quantify the lived experiences of people across the country. These statistics only offer us lenses through which we can see the world, but it is our task to discern what God calls us to do, as a community of believers.
Siyabulela Tonono is a Justice and Service Field within the Mission Unit, based at the Methodist Connexional Office and is responsible for advocacy and awareness on issues of gender-based violence and human trafficking. Contact him on +27 11 615 1616 or email Siyabulela@mco.org.za
 SAPS Crime Statistics 2018/19 Presentation accessed at https://www.saps.gov.za/services/april-march_2018_19_long_version_presentation.pdf on 16 September 2019.