The conviction rate in incidents of gender-based violence and femicide are abysmally low in rural communities, says activist Bronwyn Litkie (35).
Apart from a lack of infrastructure to sufficiently convict incidents of gender-based violence in rural communities, victims are often shamed into submission by police and their community.
Victim shaming, Litkie says, is an unimaginable trauma orchestrated by an outdated justice system where victims are forced to relive the moments their dignity was stripped by the perpetrators of violence.
Litkie (35) is the founder of the lobbyist group SA Women Fight Back. It was born out of frustration and anger over a spate of high-profile murders including the killings of Uyinene Mrwetyana and Meghan Cremer.
The murders pushed the gender-based violence debate into overdrive last year, sparking widespread protest demanding justice for women who had been slain at the hands of men.
Women in especially rural communities are often overlooked by the justice system, Litkie believes. Poor service delivery at police stations are a major cause for concern, as is secondary shaming by the communities that the victims live in.
“All we see is red. There is no rainbow, only rain and that rain is red and warm and bruised between her thighs,” says a moved Litkie.
Women who do report the crime are forced to visit male-dominated police stations, where they are asked unnecessary questions, Litkie says. “At police stations, they face a kind of secondary victimization and harassment by policemen.”
“Often these women get shamed and they are asked ridiculous questions: ‘What were you wearing?’, ‘Were you drinking?’”
What is even more worrisome, she says, is the lack of sufficient tools to solidify the case of a victim. “In rural areas, I don’t even know if rape kits make it out there.”
Her organization, which gained momentum after it was started on Facebook, has since developed a mobile app, MiVoice, launched in August.
‘We have heard of women who have had to travel for three hours using the last money in their bank accounts for taxi fare to the nearest police station to report a rape.’
However, funding is needed to assist those in rural communities who often do not have access to the internet and a smartphone.
The app allows you to register five people who are immediately notified when you press the panic button. It will also notify volunteers, whom Litkie calls angels, in your area to rush to your assistance.
“The app is still very new and as we speak I am actually sending fundraising emails, we are trying to get people to sponsor women in rural areas, understanding that funds are often a problem in these areas.”
An incident that pained Litkie was the case of woman who had been raped in rural Eastern Cape. She had been victim shamed by the community as well as police who did not have the tools to assist her.
“We have heard of women who have had to travel for three hours using the last money in their bank accounts for taxi fare to the nearest police station to report a rape. Police turned her away and said they can’t help her because there are no rape kits, there is nothing they can do,” a pained Litkie says.
The second pandemic
The scourge of gender-based violence and femicide is a pandemic of its own, seemingly firmly rooted in especially rural communities.
This is evident from 30 hotspots that were identified at a recent press briefing with minister of police, Bheki Cele. The majority of the areas identified are located in rural, farm and township communities.
These revelations were not only compiled by police, it was a collective effort, Cele said in an interview with the SABC’s Morning Live anchor, Sakina Kamwendo this week.
The negligence of members in the South African Police Service, is not a new thing he said. “I admit that sometimes our police do shoddy work, but there is a slight improvement.”
The minister once more reiterated that a SAPS telephone directory with contact details for all police stations and divisions within the department is available.
“I have already accepted that there are bad members and we need to take action against them.
“We have reintroduced the police directory which contains the numbers of high-ranking officials should you experience any grievances with a member.”
These insights however come as no surprise, believes Litkie. Gender-based violence is an epidemic that has been in South Africa long before covid-19 and it is likely to outlast it, says Litkie.
She believes that statistics are not accurate, as women in rural communities are often overlooked and sidelined.
“The statistics of GBV (gender-based violence) are not accurate, the only statistics that are accurate with GBV are when a woman gets killed. So many of these domestic violence cases go unreported.
How is money spent?
A slew of new laws and amendments have since been rushed to Parliament, but still more has to change, says Litkie.
“We always hear about this illusive budget, but there is no transparency about where the money is going. We need more Thutuzela houses, we need more mobile courts, we are thankful that new Bills have been passed but the fact of the matter is our constitution does not work anymore.
“Times are different now. Crime is higher now, we need to adjust laws. We need to have a whole, entire set of GBV laws so that perpetrators who commit acts of GBV are punished separately,” she says passionately.
However, it is not entirely in the hands of police, says Cele. Cases of GBV have often been withdrawn by victims because families persuaded them to “reconsider the ramifications of their actions.”
“You would find that families put pressure on abused women, especially if it is a close relative, if it is a father, an uncle or a known boyfriend. A lot of these cases are abandoned over fear of embarrassment that they will bring to the household.
“They are often asked ‘who will take care of us if that uncle or father is arrested?’”
It is up to the community to act in unison with police, he says. “They should not support perpetrators, they should support the victim,” says Cele.