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Police victim support poor

Police stations across the Western Cape do not provide adequate victim support to those affected by sexual crimes.

This, according to a report by Johan Brand, the Western Cape Police Ombudsman in which he reviews more than 50 police stations in the province.

The report follows a complaint from Philisa Abafazi Bethu, a non-governmental organisation, that victims experience secondary trauma when approaching a police station, often having to wait for hours, or being forced to speak to police officers in public after they experience trauma, such as sexual, physical or verbal abuse. Further allegations allude to police members not being adequately trained to deal with victims of crime, and officials not knowing or understanding the national directives on victim empowerment of the South African Police Service.

The complaint originated from problems highlighted by Philisa Abafazi Bethu about the Caledon and Swellendam police stations. Brand says he then launched a province-wide investigation to determine the extent of the problems. He also specifically looked at Bredasdorp, as this precinct had the highest incidence of domestic violence cases.

Brand says every station must be equipped with a victim-friendly room. “It is private, fitted with comfortable seating to ensure victims are comfortable and relaxed,” he said. “In this atmosphere of trust victims are able to share their experiences with the relevant Saps staff and victim support volunteers quietly and privately.”

Brand’s report indicates only 81% of the stations have victim-friendly rooms. A total of 84% of stations have a referral list available of service providers for the victims. Of all the stations only 63% have a victim-support register, documenting the cases handled. Only 80% of these stations have a victim empowerment coordinator.

The findings of the ombudsman about gender-based violence complaints at stations reveal several victims were not interviewed in the victim-friendly rooms. Seventy-one percent of victims were neither informed of their right to protection nor to be treated with fairness and respect.

The ombudsman also found communities do not trust police when it comes to reporting matters of domestic violence. The report also states these community members are not treated in a courteous and professional manner.

Brand says a police station is compliant only when 50% or more of its members are trained in victim support. The report finds provincial training needs are sorely lacking. The ombudsman says this is due to lack of funding and the fact that only 10% of the members elected to be trained for the National Victim Empowerment (VEP) Training Programme have been sent for training.

In conclusion, Brand found that although the structure for victim support exists, there is no implementation. There is also a lack of resources and relationships with non-profit organisations are lacking. There are also not enough dedicated victim empowerment programme coordinators.

“The inefficiency of Saps concerning VEP in the Western Cape is palpable,” concludes Brand. “This lends itself to harming the victims of crime.”

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