An attempt to achieve what is already denied: Police reporting choices of adolescent rape survivors in South Africa

Ms Anneke Eichstedt1
1University Of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa

In 2016/17, an average of 109 rapes were recorded by the South African police every day. We know, however, that this number only reflects a percentage of the true victimisation rate. Existing literature explains the (under)reporting of sexual offences to the police by portraying survivors as rational decision-makers: weighing the costs and benefits of accessing the criminal justice system. But this image of a reasoning and calculating rape survivor is inadequate when applied to adolescent victims: it overstates adolescents’ degree of agency while neglecting the impact of their social location.

Against this backdrop, the study explores the ways in which adolescent rape survivors’ agency is shaped by structural forces and how those play out in their decision to utilise the criminal justice system. Reflecting on 25 semi-structured interviews with teenage victims of sexual violence, preliminary findings show that teenagers do express agency by making strategic choices. However, it also becomes apparent that their choices are socially patterned – decisions are made within certain boundaries. Depending on their social position within society, both the level and composition of teenagers’ social and legal resources as well as their legal socialisation experiences vary. Growing up in (in)stable family arrangements, having a supportive peer group, being exposed to community violence as well as their assessment of the police force’s trustworthiness and legitimacy are only some of the factors that shaped teenage rape survivors’ trajectories of seeking justice in South Africa.


Anneke Eichstedt is a doctoral candidate (Department of Public Law) at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. Her research explores legal mobilization strategies employed by adolescent survivors of sexual violence particularly focusing on the degree of agency exercised by survivors living in a resource-constrained environment. This project reflects her research interest in violence against women and girls, law in everyday life and the administration of justice. Anneke previously received her MPhil in Criminology, Law and Society from the University of Cape Town. Before moving to South Africa, she graduated with a B.A. Sociology from Bremen University in Germany


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