Despite a high conviction rate, the reality is that an underwhelming 18.4% of reported sexual offences cases ever make it to trial.This was revealed by a researcher during a joint press briefing by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development on the outcomes of the National Forum on the Implementation of the Sexual Offences Act.
The briefing on Monday was headed by Deputy Minister of Justice John Jeffery and Advocate Thoko Majokweni, head of the NPA's Sexual Offences and Community Affairs Unit.
Commenting on the sexual offences conviction rate of 72%, Majokweni said: "We are generating more convictions, but I am not saying that is the best we can do. I think we can do more."
The national forum follows the release of the recent crime statistics, where it emerged that 49 660 cases of sexual offences were reported during the 2016/ 2017 financial year.
Lisa Vetten, a researcher at Wits University who presented a 2012 Medical Research Council study to the forum, said a number of cases don't make it to court because a suspect is never identified or arrested.She said cases were withdrawn due to a lack of evidence and, in some cases, the victim withdraws the cases due to stress.
"Rape is a difficult crime to prove, but there are a number of practical interventions that can be made to improve the system," said Vetten.
These reasons formed part of the forum's discussion, in which 250 participants were involved, including civil society, regional magistrates, and officials from relevant departments.
Addressing the media, Jeffery said the resolutions taken from the forum would be included in a national action plan which was expected to be monitored by the national forum steering committee.
"The National Action Plan aims to address and seek to eliminate challenges to the implementation of the Act," said Jeffery.
"We owe it to the victims of sexual offences to make sure the Act works."
The Sexual Offences Act was enacted in 2007 because common and statutory law did not adequately or effectively deal with many aspects of the commission and the adjudication of sexual offences, said Jeffery.
Outcomes and challenges identified by the forum include:
- The absence of professional skills and sensitive attitudes towards victims in sexual offences cases;
- The need for specialisation within the criminal justice system when dealing with sexual offences;- The need for adequate protocols and application; and
- The evaluation and possible amendments to legislation, such as extending the state's right to appeal on matters of fact.