Crime levels in South Africa are far worse than what is reported

 ·3 Oct 2019

On the back of recently-published crime statistics from the South African Police Service, Stats SA has published its annual Victims of Crime (VOC) survey, which shows that a shocking number of crimes go unreported in the country.

The VOC survey looks at private households from all nine provinces in South Africa, and provides information about the dynamics of crime from the perspective of these households and victims of crime.

As with previous reports – and in line with the SAPS’ statistics – the most common crime experienced by South Africans is housebreaking and home robbery.

Housebreakings or burglaries are crimes that do not involve contact between the perpetrator and victim, while house robberies do.

With housebreakings, the VOC survey data showed that 969,567 households experienced incidents in the past 12 months, with 1.35 million incidences spread among them.

However, the SAPS’ statistics for reported cases of housebreakings shows that only 220,865 cases were logged in the same period.

This means that the prevalence of housebreaking in South Africa could be as much as six times greater than the official police stats show, with the vast majority of cases (84%) going unreported.

According to the VOC report, 52% of households did not report any of the experienced incidences of housebreaking to the police, 4% reported some incidents, and only 44% reported all of them.

Over the last five years, 13% of all households – about 2.2 million – have experienced housebreaking in the country, the data showed.

The same levels of under-reporting is true for cases of house robberies, the VOC data showed.

Nearly 184,000 households experienced just over 264,000 incidents of house robberies over the past 12 months – but the SAPS has only 22,431 cases reported in its data. Again, the prevalence of the crime could be as much as 12 times greater than is shown in police stats, with over 90% of the crimes left unreported.

Across all the crime categories covered in the VOC, the levels of households not reporting crimes to the police range between 13.7% (theft of motor vehicles) and 65% (street robbery).

In some crime categories, cases reported by the SAPS are higher. With sexual offences, the VOC’s definition is narrower than the SAPS broader definition. The SAPS also tracks and deals with murders which are unknown to or outside of households. The SAPS also tracks damage done at non-residential properties in its data.

Keeping safe in South Africa

When witnessing crime in the country, people still take positive action (call the police, alert security, etc), but feel hopeless in their own personal safety.

South Africans do take some measures to protect themselves and their homes – by installing burglar protection, walking in safe hours and investing in private security, etc – however the VOC’s data shows that it does not go a long way to making people feel any safer.

Respondents who took measures to protect themselves against crime, felt about as safe as those who did nothing. And more people who reported doing nothing felt safer than those who took out personal security.

Those who took no measures to protect themselves and their homes expressed a degree of hopelessness or ambivalence around crime levels, saying that there was nothing they could do to prevent crime, and that preventative measures would not make much of a difference.

They also expressed a strong view that crime prevention was the responsibility of the police.

Read: South Africa crime stats 2019: everything you need to know

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