Cops who rape are rarely disciplined, GroundUp says


South African Police Service (SAPS) members have been accused of nearly 1 000 rapes since 2012, according to data from the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) and up to 97% of those accused are not convicted in court, partly because of problems in the forensic data system, non-profit organisation GroundUp.

Many of the alleged rapists abused the authority of their positions to aid them in these crimes, a new investigation by GroundUp’s Viewfinder accountability journalism project has found.

Since 2012, IPID has registered nearly a thousand rape cases against on- and off-duty police officers. More than a third of these are against police officers who were “on-duty” at the time that they apparently committed their crimes, GroundUp reported.

From the database, Viewfinder isolated 220 rape complaints registered against “on-duty” police officers across the country between April 2015 and March 2020. “These descriptions consistently pointed to cases where police officers stand accused of abusing the power, trust or privilege of their position in order to commit rape.”

In 38 of the complaints in Viewfinder’s sample, women said that they were raped while in custody or under arrest. In 26 of the cases, the victim of an alleged rape was a minor. In some of the descriptions, patrolling on-duty police officers reportedly rolled up to women walking alone on the streets at night. They offered to give these women lifts home, but instead drove to secluded areas to rape them.

A previous Viewfinder article highlighted the case of police officers accused of gang raping a woman who had called on them for protection from an abusive partner in northern KwaZulu-Natal. Viewfinder’s sample has now revealed 14 other examples of officers accused of raping women and girls who had called on the police or been entrusted to them for help.

IPID has registered 964 rape cases against both off- and on-duty police officers in South Africa since 2012. With a total of 73 cases, IPID’s Western Cape office registered the highest number of rape cases against “on duty” police officers in the country, between 2012 and 2020. Thabo Leholo, IPID’s head in the province, told GroundUp that the abuse of power is the common thread that runs through these rape cases as well.

The watchdog’s data suggests that as many as 97% of police officers investigated for rape are not convicted in court and imprisoned. One reason for the low rates of criminal convictions, said Leholo, is delays in technical reports. Earlier this year, police minister Bheki Cele announced a backlog at the country’s Forensic Sciences Laboratories of more than 200 000 cases. More than 77,000 of these were gender-based violence and femicide cases that were otherwise ready for court.

For the 964 rape cases registered against police officers between April 2012 and March 2020, the SAPS dismissed 50 officers for rape.