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Last edited: December 20, 2011

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taking the time to watch processes unfold as an uninvolved observer can provide important information that may otherwise be missed by parties who are deeply involved in a particular issue. Observational data can also include photographs or video that can be used later for advocacy, training, or public awareness campaigns. Observation should always be carried out with ethical standards for research on violence against women in mind, and should protect the confidentiality of all parties.

South Africa – Tracking Justice Project

The Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre undertook one of the largest studies ever conducted tracking rape cases through the criminal justice system. The Tracking Justice study used random sampling to select a representative sample of cases from the nearly 12,000 rape cases reported to police in Gauteng Province in 2003. Case records were then obtained from the police, magistrates’ courts, district courts, and high courts on the sampled cases. Only closed cases were used in the study.

Multiple data collection instruments were used in the study. The first data sheet recorded information from the police docket and was abstracted by a team of trained fieldworkers. Another data sheet was developed by a legal professional and legal researcher and was used to record information about those cases that went to court. If cases did not proceed to arrest and then trial, information was gathered on reasons for non-progression. The data sheet contained both closed and open questions. Closed questions were used for items where the range of responses was well defined, such as age, language, occupation, dates or where there were a limited range of likely responses e.g. use of weapons. Open questions were used for items such as circumstances of the rape, instructions given during the rape and actions taken afterwards.

Of the 2,064 cases in the study, half resulted in arrests (50.5%) but only 42.8% were charged in court. Trials commenced in less than one in five cases (17.3%). A conviction for any crime resulted in just over 1 in 20 (6.2%) cases. However, some of these convictions were for lesser charges so overall only 4.1% of cases reported as rape resulted in convictions for rape. 15.6% of rape convictions received less than the mandated 10 years minimum sentence. The other prescribed sentence for rape, life imprisonment, was very rarely observed. Thirty-four men (or 41%) convicted of rape were eligible for life imprisonment. This was handed down in only three cases.

The Tracking Justice study has been used for advocacy and education in multiple ways. Tshwaranang conducts training for forensic professionals, community advocates and others, using data from the study. Data has influenced government policy, specifically police practices, and the organization was asked to participate in the government’s criminal justice policy review process. Finally, the data regularly informs litigation through amicus briefs in related cases.

Despite the powerful results obtained through this research, the principal investigator in the study notes that it remains difficult to push ahead with reform because the process is fundamentally dependent on political will. Even if training is conducted, systems must be put into place through political processes that allow individuals to act on their training. Reform of policies and national plans depends on political actors, and when those actors change, reform processes may come to a halt. In addition, funding to continue to track the impact of baseline research such as this has been difficult to obtain.

To find out more about Tshwaranang’s research and advocacy on violence against women, including media articles, research reports, submissions government, policy briefs, and legal analysis to support court cases, visit their publications page.

Sources: Vetten et al. 2008; Interview with Lisa Vetten, January 2011.

The following are some specific methods that can be used in an appraisal process, either in combination or alone. Other methods for information gathering are discussed throughout this section.