“An old man watches as a young boy throws starfish back into the sea after they have been washed up onto the shore. The young boy walks miles on end, throwing them back one by one. The old man eventually asks him, ‘What on earth are you doing? There are millions of starfish here and you can’t save them all.’ The boy’s reply is simple. ‘I know – but to this one starfish I’m making a difference’. ”
Capt. Caren Nel, commander of the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences (FCS) Unit in Kuruman, gives this analogy to describe her unit.
The FCS, one of 16 such units in the Northern Cape, is only involved with criminal cases that involve women and children.
Nel has been in the service of the South African Police Service (SAPS) for more than 30 years. She took over as acting commander of the unit in December 2018 and got promoted in 2019 after being short-listed.
The unit has a high success rate for tracing and apprehending suspects, and is often mentioned in the media due to its success.
Nel has a high regard for her team members.
“You must be strong to work in this unit. You must have a sense of courage and heart to work with people who have endured a lot of heartache and trauma in their lives. Each one of the members in this unit has a courageous heart. Each one is brave.”
The bigger picture, as envisioned by Nel, is justice for those who have fallen victim to horrendous crimes. It is the motivation that drives them to do their job well.
“The only way to do it, is to stay true to our training. No shortcuts, no loopholes. I make sure the case that goes to court is solid. When we have reliable witnesses, an offender will get sentenced.”
In a recent case the unit was involved in, Allan Charles Reed, a 58-year-old teacher from a school in Kuruman, was arrested for the sexual assault of a minor in 2015. The victim was a 12-year-old learner at the time.
In February this year, Reed was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment, with two years’ suspension, and he was added to the public sex offenders list.
He was brought to book thanks to the thorough investigation by the FCS and the use of reliable witnesses.
“There is always the broader picture to look at. You work harder, skip lunches and go into overtime. You put in all your effort to make a difference somewhere.”
According to Nel, she and her unit have to be resilient when working on cases.
“Members of my team try to make a difference to that one individual whose life has changed fundamentally.”
It is not just the FCS that can make a difference. Nel strongly warns the community against confronting a suspect; instead, she advises people to call the nearest police station.
“Woman and children are the unit’s priority, and should be the community’s as well. If a sexual offence occurs, it must be reported to the police without delay and without fear of repercussions.”
Nel says the criminal case must first be registered at a police station, after which it is allocated to the FCS or general detectives.
- To report a crime, dial 10111 or inform the police station closest to where the crime has been committed. Dial 053-712-9831/2 to reach the Kuruman Police Station.