At the beginning of December 2019, the Wuhan region in China experienced an outbreak of coronavirus that affected human beings. The virus spread rapidly between people as no one has any immunity against it, and no one had ever been infected by it until then. Initially, it was seen as an epidemic in China, which gradually spread worldwide within a few months. By the end of March 2020, the world had seen thirty thousand deaths, and nearly half a million people were infected. COVID-19 was declared as a pandemic by WHO.
To prevent and slow down the transmission of COVID-19, several countries implemented social distancing and a mandatory lockdown for a said period. The pandemic created fear among several regions due to the short supply of medical facilities and other resources to deal with the pandemic, and a lockdown was considered the best option. Several countries, including South Africa, implemented a lockdown.
The Coronavirus Impact on crime
The most gripping question to answer right now is, ‘have crime stats dropped or increased during lockdown?’ As the world moves on with uncertainty over what the future will hold, the question that is shaping up in several minds is how the lockdown has affected the crime rates.
Large parts of the world have seen drastic changes in existing crime rates, and new types of crime are posing to be a challenge to law enforcement. It is not only the commitment of crime that is changing, but also the duties of law enforcement. Amid the COVID-19 scare, the police are responsible to ensure that the residents do not violate the lockdown ordinance. In several countries, police are redeployed to cities, leaving the rural areas vulnerable to increased crime.
South Africa is the nation with the highest murder rates in the world. Many believe that a toxic mix of poverty, unemployment, and inequality, as well as a culture of violence is the reason behind the increasing murder crimes in South Africa. These rates are further exacerbated by chronic drug and alcohol abuse. The country recorded 21,022 murders in 2018 and 2019, and most of them were a result of a conflict between young adult men.
The effect on violent crime
However, the COVID-19 stats in South Africa are surprising. When the crime rates during the first week of lockdown were compared to the same time as in 2019, there was a noticeable drop in several violent crimes.
It was seen that murder cases in South Africa had dropped from 326 to 94. Additionally, rape cases dropped from 699 to 101, and cases of assault such as beating, stabbing, and intending to cause serious bodily harm had dropped from 2673 to 456. Furthermore, car, truck, and automobile hijacking, business robberies and house robberies, or home burglary stats during lockdown, which were collectively grouped as trio crimes, dropped from 8853 to 2098. The trio crimes are considered a violent crime as the perpetrators or attackers are generally armed with illegal firearms, and they are the crimes that instill fear among people.
Did alcohol ban have any effect on crime?
The decrease in crime rate in South Africa is attributed to the ban on alcohol sales. The imposition of a ban on alcohol since the lockdown that was implemented to stem the spread of coronavirus has resulted in decreased violent crimes. It was observed the most of the violent crimes such as sexual abuse and murder usually started on Thursdays and continued through the weekend. Most of the accused were found at alcohol outlets. With a ban imposed on the sale of alcohol, the crime rates have drastically reduced.
An unfortunate increase in gender-based violence
It is unfortunate that South Africa saw an increase in gender-based violence (GBV) during the lockdown as many were left vulnerable and in danger within their house. A shocking 2,320 calls and complaints were registered within the first five days of lockdown. The numbers were concerning, as it was 37% higher than the weekly average when compared to 2019, and the concern needed to be addressed as the numbers continued to rise. Nearly 148 suspects were charged, and the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Units at police stations were asked to be ready with full capacity to respond to future complaints.
Another concern was based on the research by the South African Medical Research Council, which found that nearly 56% of the women who were murder victims were attacked and killed by their intimate partners. Additionally, 45% of the children who were murder victims in South Africa, died as a result of neglect or abuse, which was often at the hands of their mothers. The increase in domestic violence in South Africa during the COVID-19 lockdown can result in an unprecedented increase in violent crime caused by domestic crimes. There is no clear evidence for this yet, but interpersonal violence could yield an increase in crime and violence.