n South African Journal of Criminal Justice - Case attrition in rape cases : a comparative analysis

Volume 20, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1011-8527
  • E-ISSN: 1996-2118



The past decade has seen a number of legal, practice and policy-based interventions made in order to ensure that the criminal justice system is more responsive to rape complaints. At their most instrumental, the aim of both shifts in practice and in the laws relating to sexual offences is to increase reporting and conviction rates in rape cases. One of the greatest problems with the criminal justice system's response to rape remains, however, that most reported cases do not in fact make it through the system to trial. This article reflects on two attrition studies conducted by the authors between 2003 and 2006, together examining the disposition of approximately 600 rape cases across six urban police stations. The objective of these studies was to examine the processing, investigation and prosecution of sexual offences cases and to analyse the possible reasons for high attrition. This paper raises the complexities of calculating attrition as well as the extent to which international experiences and perspectives on rape attrition converge and contrast with South African ones. We also set out to develop some of the insights that we have garnered from our own attrition studies and thereby to alert scholars working in this area to the key practical and theoretical issues that arise in conceptualising and conducting an attrition study.

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