Police officers' experiences of policing domestic violence in the Western Cape Province

Retief, Rita Theresa (2013-12)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2013.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Domestic violence is one of the most prevalent forms of violence that police officials encounter on a daily basis. The effects of domestic violence are far-reaching and long-lasting. Globally, the police function as “gatekeepers” in terms of domestic violence victims’ access to the criminal justice system. Intervening in domestic violence has become a controversial process, as domestic violence is a very complex issue, which has been compounded by misunderstandings, stereotyping and myths. Since 1998, police officials in the South African Police Service (SAPS) are expected to promote redress and prevent crimes against women and children through multifaceted approaches, including the building of trust between police officials and citizens. Research reports indicate that victims of domestic violence are hesitant to approach SAPS for assistance, for various reasons. Police officers’ personal experiences of policing domestic violence are however largely unexplored. Consequently, the goal of this research was to gain insight into the experiences and perceptions of frontline police officials, who have to provide maximum protection to victims of domestic abuse in terms of the Domestic Violence Act 116 of 1998. To achieve the goal and objectives of the study, a combination approach was followed, in which the qualitative research approach dominated and the quantitative approach was applied to a lesser degree. An exploratory study guided by a literature review and a phenomenological approach was conducted at seven (7) police stations in the Western Cape Province. Twenty-eight (28) frontline police officials’ subjective experiences and perceptions of their policing of domestic violence were determined through in-depth interviews based on a questionnaire. Data were analysed by means of thematic analysis, and presented as narratives focusing on four major themes relating to the phenomenon under investigation. The conclusions drawn from the study indicated that the pervasive police culture, lack of insight by some police officials, and their continuous adherence to an outdated concept of domestic violence contribute to the weakening implementation of current domestic violence legislation, leaving police officials frustrated, hopeless and powerless to effect real change. The overall finding of the study is that, in practice, little has changed because of inconsistencies in the actions of the police and society as a whole in rejecting and condemning the brutalisation and intimidation of women and children. What is most unfortunate, however, is that SAPS has yet to accord the same weight to domestic violence in practice as it does to other violent crimes. In order for law enforcement to be effective, law reforms need to be accompanied by fundamental changes in attitudes, values and behaviours on the part of SAPS and all relevant role players, including the communities SAPS serves. The study concludes with recommendations on how to improve police officials’ ability to provide maximum protection to victims of domestic violence, as well as to provide programme developers and policy makers in SAPS with information on which to base policy decisions regarding training interventions and national instructions aimed at the policing of domestic violence.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Huishoudelike geweld is een van die algemeenste vorme van geweld wat polisiebeamptes daagliks teëkom. Die gevolge van huishoudelike geweld is verreikend en langdurig. Wêreldwyd dien die polisie as “hekwagters” wat slagoffers van huishoudelike geweld se toegang tot die strafregstelsel betref. Ingryping in huishoudelike geweld is deesdae ’n omstrede proses, want huishoudelike geweld is ’n uiters komplekse saak wat deur misverstande, stereotipering en mites vererger word. Sedert 1998 word daar van polisiebeamptes in die Suid-Afrikaanse Polisiediens (SAPD) verwag om deur middel van meervlakkige benaderings, onder meer die opbou van vertroue tussen polisiebeamptes en burgers, herstel te bevorder en misdaad teen vroue en kinders te voorkom. Navorsingsverslae toon dat die slagoffers van huishoudelike geweld om verskeie redes huiwerig is om die SAPD om hulp te nader. Tog is navorsing oor polisiebeamptes se persoonlike ervarings van die polisiëring van huishoudelike geweld baie skaars. Hierdie navorsing was dus daarop toegespits om insig te bekom in die ervarings en opvattings van frontlinie-polisiebeamptes, wat ingevolge die Wet op Huishoudelike Geweld 116 van 1998 maksimum beskerming aan slagoffers van huishoudelike geweld moet bied. Om die doel en oogmerke van die studie te bereik, is ’n kombinasie benadering gevolg waarin die kwalitatiewe navorsingsbenadering hoofsaaklik, en die kwantitatiewe benadering in ’n mindere mate, toegepas is. ’n Ondersoekende studie is aan die hand van ’n literatuuroorsig en ’n fenomenologiese benadering by sewe (7) polisiestasies in die provinsie Wes-Kaap onderneem. Agten- twintig (28) frontlinie-polisiebeamptes se subjektiewe ervarings van, en opvattings oor, hul polisiëring van huishoudelike geweld is deur middel van diepte-onderhoude op grond van ’n vraelys bepaal. Data is met behulp van tematiese analise ontleed en word aangebied as narratiewe wat oor vier hooftemas met betrekking tot die studieonderwerp handel. Die gevolgtrekkings van die studie doen aan die hand dat die heersende polisiekultuur, sommige polisiebeamptes se gebrek aan insig, en hul voortgesette navolging van ’n verouderde konsep van huishoudelike geweld tot die al hoe swakker toepassing van huidige wetgewing oor huishoudelike geweld lei. Dít laat polisiebeamptes gefrustreerd, moedeloos en magteloos om werklike verandering teweeg te bring. Die algehele bevinding van die studie is dat weinig in die praktyk verander het weens teenstrydigheid in die optrede van die polisie en die samelewing in die geheel om geweld en intimidasie teenoor vroue en kinders te verwerp en te veroordeel. Straks méér betreurenswaardig is dat die SAPD nog nie in die praktyk dieselfde gewig aan huishoudelike geweld as aan ander geweldsmisdade heg nie. Wetstoepassing sal slegs doeltreffend wees indien regshervorming gepaardgaan met grondliggende veranderinge in houdings, waardes en gedrag deur die SAPD en alle tersaaklike rolspelers, met inbegrip van die gemeenskappe wat deur die SAPD bedien word. Die studie sluit af met aanbevelings oor hoe polisiebeamptes beter in staat gestel kan word om maksimum beskerming aan die slagoffers van huishoudelike geweld te bied, en oor die bemagtiging van programontwikkelaars en beleidskrywers in die SAPD met inligting as grondslag vir beleidsbesluite oor opleidingsintervensies en nasionale instruksies rakende die polisiëring van huishoudelike geweld.

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