“[Violent crime, such as assault, murder and sexual offences,] occurs in the homes where people know one another; there is a very social aspect to it. Crime can be dealt with by police, but in South Africa the types of crimes that we are experiencing require a different social compact,” Statistician-General Pali Lehohla said during the presentation of a new report by Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) on 4 May 2016.
"By analysing crime and its perception in this way, it enables policy to start thinking how do we turn the streets, the homes and the entertainment places around into centres where people can live well," explained Lehohla.
Lehohla also stressed that perceptions of crime differ from reality as reflected by the statistics. “Crime in South Africa has more or less stabilised, but it’s stabilising at a fairly high level. However, perceptions about how crime is manifesting itself in South Africa are that crime has been increasing: the majority of people believe that crime levels have gone up.”
The report by Stats SA explores selected contact crimes – murder, assault and sexual offences – and the effect these crimes have on victims and their relatives. It is the third report in a series of analyses comparing official crime statistics with the annual Victims of Crime Surveys which measure perceptions and social effects of crime and violence.
Violence cuts across social status – occurs mostly at home and among friends
The history of South Africa, which was characterised by a violent regime of Apartheid, has left an unfortunate legacy. Thus, combatting contact crime is crucial as violence in South Africa demonstrably cuts across social status and the safety of individuals is threatened not only in public spaces, but also in domestic settings.
This is distressing as its outcomes impact directly on the quality of life of individuals, the health and wellbeing of the family, community and social cohesion and ultimately, functioning of the country.
Overall findings of the study indicate that more females experienced sexual offence than their male counterparts; while more males experienced assault than females. Households who are headed by females were more likely to experience murder when compared to male‐headed households.
The study found that most of these crimes are likely to occur either in the home or amongst people who know each other and with the presence of either alcohol or drugs. This implies that regardless of whatever crime strategies the police adopt, many of these crimes will continue to occur unless behaviour and value change takes place in society.
The key findings of the study indicate that victims of assault are most likely to be single; within the younger age groups (16‐34 years); have some or completed secondary education; within the intermediate living standard measure.
The most common place of occurrence of assault was in the street, followed by home, these findings are consistent over the years. The results indicate that males were more likely to experience assault in the street and females at home.
Assaults were mostly perpetrated by known people. Individuals aged 15–34 years contributed the highest percentage of assault offenders. The motive most cited for assault was ‘anger towards a person and/or their family, followed by jealousy. Findings further indicate that alcohol and/or drugs influenced assault, regardless of where they occurred.
When comparing these findings with those of Mortality and causes of death, assault was one of the main causes of unnatural death, particularly amongst young men.
Victims of sexual offence are most likely to be single, young people (aged 20–34 years). Results indicate that more females experienced sexual offence as compared to males. Most incidents of sexual offence occurred at home. Known people were the main perpetrators of sexual offence, where the majority of incidents were committed by a spouse/lover.
While individuals who experienced sexual offence mostly indicated that the motive behind victimisation was anger towards them and/or their families, a worrying factor is that those that occurred at home were due to attempted rape.
The main offender of sexual offence was individuals aged 15–34 years. A knife was used during most sexual offences that occurred outside the home environment, an indication that other forms of coercion or persuasion, possibly of a psychological and physical nature, were used against the victim in the home.
About 35,1% of murder incidents in urban metros and 38,2% in rural areas were perpetrated by people aged 35–54 years. Jealousy was perceived as the main motive for murder committed by people aged 15– 34, while the main motive for murder committed by people aged 35–54 years was perceived to be money and other financial motives.
Findings indicate that the police were generally able to detect murder incidents as about half of people in urban areas, who had a murder in their household, knew the perpetrator from a police report.
In rural areas, people generally were not aware of who had committed murder, however, it is important to note that general community knowledge also facilitated knowledge of the perpetrator. This may serve as an indicator of a higher level of social cohesion in rural areas, when compared to urban areas.
The report concludes with a number of recommended action points – including:
- Media and advocacy campaigns in schools, workplaces and communities to raise awareness about existing legislation and also to create an environment where children and victims could easily recognise and report abuse that they may witness at home.
- The majority of males are assaulted in the street, and it is therefore recommended that greater attention should be paid to assault in public spaces as part of policing and other crime‐prevention strategies.
- Having life skills and school‐based education programmes could positively influence the knowledge, attitudes and behaviours of young people in communities and schools. This could deter young people from engaging in criminal offences and also serve to educate them about behaviours that could increase the risk of becoming a victim of crime.
- Coalitions of government and civil society institutions should ideally be established, as this would enable problems to be confronted at grass roots level.
- Institutions should be transformed in every sector of society, using a gender perspective to integrate attention to violence against women and children. Men and boys should be engaged to promote nonviolence and gender equality.
- Early‐intervention services to at risk families must be provided. These could include home visits by social workers/civil society to educate and help to reduce violent behaviour, which is often associated with intimate partner violence.
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