Understanding and preventing rape: perceptions of police officers in inner city Johannesburg.

Mabasa, Thandi Beatrice
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Rape is a major concern in South Africa and is described to be reaching endemic proportions. There have been a number of studies conducted on rape, which have focussed on different populations. Research exploring the perceptions of police officers, who are at the forefront in the handling of rape victims and rape perpetrators, is scarce. The current study therefore aimed at gathering information about the experiences, understandings and knowledge of these police personnel. It was hoped that through their contribution prevention strategies may be formulated. To attain these aims, seven police personnel from two major police stations in inner city Johannesburg (namely the Hillbrow and Johannesburg Central police stations) were interviewed using the semi structured interview method. The police personnel interviewed were required to have at least two years experience in working with rape cases. These individual interviews were audio taped and transcribed. The transcripts were then explored for themes using thematic content analysis. These themes were categorised and discussed under five main topics. These main themes explored the police personnel’s perceptions of the prevalence of rape, perceptions of the causes of rape and the perpetrators likely to commit rape, the most common rape cases dealt with, vulnerability factors contributing to rape, and concludes with current and recommended rape prevention strategies. The participants had conflicting views about the seriousness of the issue of rape in South Africa. They did however agree on the perception that the Johannesburg area has a particularly high prevalence rate. This was largely attributed to high levels of false rape reporting among sex workers. Acquaintance rape, the rape of sex workers, child rape and male rape were viewed as the most common cases that are reported. The perceived causes of rape appear to involve a number of factors. The participants perceived the causes of adult cases and child cases of rape to be different. For adult women the causes included v substance use by the victim, men’s negative attitudes towards women and unemployment. The child rape causes included myths related to curing HIV, poverty, perpetrators’ disturbed mental states, as well as their abusive or neglectful childhood backgrounds. The profile of rape perpetrators according to the causes of rape ranged from mentally disturbed individuals for children, to men who simply objectify women in adult cases. A number of factors were perceived to render some women more vulnerable to being raped than others. These factors also differed between child and adult rape cases. Children were perceived to be most vulnerable if they lived in poor conditions with poor parental supervision. Adults on the other hand were perceived to be most vulnerable if they used substances, were unemployed or were sex workers. An exploration of the prevention strategies concluded the study. The participants had conflicting views on whether there are current strategies or efforts to prevent rape. The participants however recommended training of relevant personnel to deal with rape cases, improvements in the prosecution of perpetrators and increasing awareness about rape among men and in communities.