Policing the private: Social barriers to the effective policing of domestic violence

  • Heidi Mogstad University of Cape Town
  • Dominique Dryding
  • Olivia Fiorotto
Keywords: policing, domestic violence, norms, Khayelitsha


Problems in policing are commonly framed as institutional failures. This is frequently the case in the policing of domestic violence, where the limited ability of police to assist abuse victims is often reported to be a consequence of a lack of resources or inadequate training for police. This paper examines the challenges and limitations of policing domestic violence from a different angle. Reflecting on key findings from a qualitative study of local perceptions of and attitudes towards domestic violence in the South African township of Khayelitsha, we highlight the strong disciplinary influence of cultural norms and beliefs in shaping victims’ reluctance to involve police in cases of abuse. While our findings clearly underscore the limits of focusing on improved policing absent cultural change, we nuance and qualify this argument by identifying important exceptions from the norm and mapping gendered and intra-gender differences in participants’ concerns. 

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Research articles