Rape Unresolved: Policing sexual offences in South Africa


Dee Smythe
University of Cape Town


More than 1 000 women are raped in South Africa every day. Around 150 of those women will report the crime to the police. Fewer than 30 of the cases will be prosecuted and no more than 10 will result in a conviction. This translates into an overall conviction rate of 4–8 per cent of reported cases. What happens to all the other cases?

Rape Unresolved is concerned with the question of police discretion and how its exercise shapes the criminal justice response to rape in South Africa. Through a detailed, qualitative review of rape dockets and victim statements, as well as interviews with detectives, prosecutors, magistrates and rape counsellors, the author provides key insights into police responses to rape.

A complex picture emerges, of myths and stereotypes, of skills deficits, of disengagement by police as well as victims. Responsibility for the investigation of the cases – and their ultimate failure – is shifted onto the complainants, who must constantly prove their commitment to the criminal justice process in order to be taken seriously.

The vast majority of rape victims who approach the criminal justice system in South Africa do not receive justice or protection. This book uncovers the fault line between the state’s rhetorical commitment to addressing sexual violence through legal guarantees and the actual application of these laws.


  • Rape Unresolved
    Policing sexual offences in South Africa


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6 April 2022


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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