Gender Commission’s analysis of the Crime Statistics 2018

Release Date: 19 September 2018

To: Editors, Producers and Reporters

Tuesday, 11 September 2018, showed an increase in a few key categories of crime which in turn has caused widespread alarm, panic and public outcry regarding crime in South Africa. While the release of these figures in itself is a welcome annual event, and continues to serve as an annual barometer for the rate crime in the country, the figures themselves continue to raise important issues for ongoing public debates regarding how best to collect, record and disseminate such data. Also, the public debates that accompany the annual release of these crime figures are usually accompanied by various stakeholders raising issues of concern regarding the accuracy, reliability and timing of the release of these figures.

On the face of it, the increase in the following categories of crime is of great concern from the CGE’s perspective, as they tend to entail a great deal of gender-based violence:

  • Murder: increase from 19,016 in 2017 to 20,336 – an increase of 6.9%.

[In South African law, the unlawful and intentional killing of another person is defined as murder. As a contact crime, murder is considered to be the most reliable crime statistic, given that most murders can be independently verified. As a result, statistics on murder are less likely to be affected by the problem of under-reporting.

While the new murder figures do not give much detail, it is assumed that included among these murder figures are figures relating to the murder of women and children, spousal murders including femicide and intimate partner violence (IPV), the murder of people from the LGBTI community and others for reasons of sexual orientation or identity, etc. these categories of crime are of great concern for the CGE, and greater details in this regard are needed.

The SAPS figures for murder translate into 57 people killed a day, and 46 out of the 57-people killed daily are men. The figures relating to attempted murder are excluded from this category and recorded separately.

  • Murder of women: the SAPS has also released specific figures on the murder of women, showing an increase that 291 more women were murdered in 2018 compared to 2017. In 2017/18, a total of 2,930 women were murdered in South Africa. This means 15.2 murders per 100,000 women, and this represents an 11% increase. The category of murder of women also raises an issue in that it does not provide details of the magnitude of femicide or other forms of murder affecting women. The same applies to other vulnerable groups where data does not present subcategories of hate crimes or murders affecting the LGBTIQ community.  This means that policy makers are likely to resort to blanket interventions due to lack of specific details for tailored responses.
  • Murder of boys and girls:  the SAPS figures also indicate that 117 boys were killed in 2018 compared to 2017, with 29 more girls murdered in 2018 compared to 2017. According to the newly released figures, out of 985 child murders recorded in the past year, 691 were boys and 294 were girls. These figures further indicate that the murder of boys increased by 20% and that of girl children increased by 10%. More children murders occurred in the Western Cape, which registered the highest number of reported child murders for the 2017/2018 reporting period.
  • Attempted Murder: increase from 18,205 in 2017 to 18, 233 in 2018 – a slight increase of 0.2%.

[This category of crime is as much of concern for the CGE as the category of murder, as incidents of gender-based violence raised above also apply here.]

  • Sexual Offences: (increase from 49,660 in 2017 to 50,108 in 2018 – an increase of 0.9%)

[the SAPS indicate that these figures exclude attempted rape. From the CGE perspective, while attempted rape figures are not reflected, attempted rape is still a form of violence, and many women and girls have been victims of attempted rape with devastating physical, mental and psychological repercussions]

  • Sexual offences discovered as a result of Police Action: increase from 6,164 in 2017 to 6,701 in 2018 – an 8.7%.

This is a figure based on police detection and investigations rather than reporting by members of the public and shows significant increase.

  • Common assault: (decrease from 156, 450 in 2017 to 156,243 in 2018 – slight decrease of 0.1%)
  • Assault with intend to do grievous bodily harm: (decrease from 170,616 in 2017 to 167, 352 in 2018 – decrease of 1.9%)

While these two categories of crime above appear to show an opposite trend to the major contact crimes categories that CGE is monitoring as part of its work on gender-based violence, the decreases as limited. These two categories are important from the CGE’s point of view as women and girls are likely to suffer common assault and assault with intent to do grievous harm.  These categories of crime are also susceptible to problems of under-reporting or non-reporting.


  • The crime statistics released by the Ministry of Police indicate that the figures for the key categories of crimes, from the CGE’s perspective, have gone up between 2017 and 2018. Key contact crimes such as murder (general murder, murder of women and children), attempted murder and sexual offences have clearly increased.  On the face of it, this is alarming, and speaks to a society facing an escalating scourge of violence, which almost invariably means greater levels of gender-based violence in society.
  • While the annual release of this information is extremely helpful, the SAPS has not yet resolved long-standing issues that the CGGE has raised every year regarding the accuracy and reliability of data relating to some of the categories of crime, especially those incidents/figures that cannot be independently verified. The CGE has in the past raised for consideration the fact that the SAPS figures for some categories of crime such as sexual assault/ rape, attempted rape, etc., especially those based on reporting by members of the public, cannot be entirely accurate. Even those figures detected and investigated by the SAPS itself are subject to issues of capacity and resource constraints, among others.
  • It is common cause that the statistics around sexual offences, as is the case with other categories of crime, are subject to questions of accuracy and reliability not only in terms of the manner of their recording at each local police station, but also in terms of the methods of collection and even definitions and categorisations of incidents of crime. In some instances, the victims of crime or their relatives lack the motivation and resources to report certain categories of crime, including domestic violence, rape and attempted rape, to their local police stations. In other words, the SAPS figures on sexual offences could, at best, be a mere indicator of the scourge of violence facing South Africa rather than an accurate reflection/capturing the truth/reality of all incidents of crime in the country.
  •  Incidents of domestic violence, rape and attempted rape (those crimes that tend to affect women more) are particularly susceptible to underreporting and poor recording. Relying on reporting by members of the public simply exacerbates these problems.
  • The sexual offences usually occur in private and hidden spaces, away from the public’s eye and often involve known assailants from families, colleagues, friends, and romantic relationships, among others. As a result, the SAPS figures, while extremely useful in alerting society to the scourge of violence and crime and its patterns throughout the country, at the same time they are best understood within the capacity, logistical and practical limitations faced by the SAPS in compiling these figures. In other words, the capacity and resource limitations faced by the SAPS, combined with the SAPS’s reliance on the willingness and motivations of victims of crime or their relatives to report on sexual offences, are important factors to be considered in understanding the issues relating to the release of the annual crime statistics in South Africa.
  • Given these factors, it is plausible therefore to argue that the increase (0.9 percent) in sexual offences in 2017/2018 might possibly not reflect the real increase. In other words, it is possible that the increase in the rate of sexual offences as reflected in this year’s crime statistics is not a true reflection of the reality of sexual violence against women and girls in this country.
  • The newly released SAPS crime figures also do not capture the complex nature of sexual offences, including details of the gender of the victims and their perpetrators and the circumstances under which the incidents occurred. This is a limitation that appears inherent in crime statistics in general in South Africa. This was also the case with the Statistics South Africa’s Victims of Crime Survey 2018 which also did not provide greater details on crimes such as sexual offences that mostly affected women.
  • Furthermore, sexual offences are varied and therefore affect different categories of victims in different ways with different impacts. The need for accurate information is therefore critical in order to inform more effective responses and clearly targeted interventions to mitigate the scourge of sexual violence against children, women, LGBTIQ communities, sex workers, men who are raped by either gender, including women with disabilities. Without this detailed information, it becomes difficult for policy makers and other key stakeholders to allocate sufficient resources including appropriate personnel with the requisite skills and training to deal effectively with crime.
  • Another important issue that the CGE has raised persistently in the past in terms of the categorisation of SAPS crime statistics, is the need to disaggregate sexual offences to reflect all offences as listed under the Sexual Offences and Related
  • Matters Act 32 of 2007. The current release only disaggregates two sub-categories (rape and sexual assault) under the broader category of sexual offences. Other critical sub-categories such as incest, attempted rape, statutory rape and sexual grooming of children including their direct figures are not reflected.  Such information is critical to illuminate areas of pressing national concern, that is the ability to guide the necessary processes, interventions and resource allocation to adequately respond to issues of sexual offences.
  • The CGE has also in the past raised practical issues that can hamper the collection of crime statistics, including barriers to the reporting of sexual offences due to lack of confidence in the criminal justice system, particularly the police and the courts; fear of intimidation by the perpetrators; women or children’s fear of not being believed when reporting rape; rape stigma; challenges with access to police stations situated afar and lack of information/knowledge. In addition, the lack of resources and personnel often hampers the SAPS from carrying out their duties efficiently. In some instances, the attitudes of some SAPS members, including prevalent conservative gender-based stereotypes and myths around rape being caused by the type of dress worn by the victims, leads to victims deciding not to report cases of sexual assaults, including rape.  
  • The picture becomes even bleaker when looking at the murder rate for men which has consistently stood at more than three times the rate for women since 2000. The current data paints a grim picture and suggests that men are five times more likely to be victims of murder in South Africa compared to women.