1000 rapists on the prowl

20 May 2015 - 02:18 By Graeme Hosken and Shaun Smillie

A thousand men suspected of being serial rapists are walking the streets. Between them, they are thought to have raped at least 2000 women.But Police Minister Nathi Nhleko has not signed a policy document basic to assisting the police in tracking and arresting them.The document would authorise the streamlining of investigations and ensure closer co-operation between various police units and police and prosecutors.The policy document, along with another dealing with the under-reporting of rape and domestic violence cases, has been ready for Nhleko's signature since March.Nhleko's spokesman, Musa Zondi, said the implementation of the policies was a priority."Unfortunately, there are a lot of things in the queue. South Africans can be assured that the minister will look at these documents as a matter of priority."He said it should not be claimed that the delay in getting the documents signed off meant that the police could not do their job.South Africa has one of the world's highest serial rape and murder rates, ranking third behind the US and Russia.The 1000 serial rapists at large, who have each raped a minimum of two people and who have not been arrested, were identified during the past financial year through the police's DNA database system.Lisa Vetten, a research associate at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, was a technical adviser in the drafting of the policy document awaiting Nhleko's approval. She said 1000 unsolved ''rape series'' were discovered during meetings with the police about the formulation of the policy."During these meetings it was revealed there were 1000 unsolved rape series. That means 1000 serial rapists are active on the streets," she said.The setting up of the database has led to numerous successes in investigations that for years had been dormant.Last week, a fifth alleged member of the Balaclava Gang - which has terrorised residents of Alexandra, northern Johannesburg, since 2005, raping at least 35 women - was arrested.The five, said police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Lungelo Dlamini, have been linked to 15 of the rapes. Couples were assaulted while parked at the township's cemetery.The serial rape and murder policy document, which outlines how investigations should be conducted, states that, although South Africa's high number of serial rape and murder cases has resulted in the development of considerable expertise in investigating such crimes, "the absence of a policy on how these cases must be dealt with is complicating their management, co-ordination and speedy finalisation".The document stipulates a structure for serial rape and serial murder investigations, and the processes and procedures that should be followed.Vetten said it had been believed that the police minister would, in his budget speech last week in parliament, announce the implementation of the policies."But he did not. It's concerning because the policies, which were ready in March, need to be prioritised to address South Africa's serial rape problem."Dr Jackie de Wet, a forensic psychologist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and an expert on serial offenders, said: "Serial rape is one of the few crimes highly sensitive to physical evidence, specifically to DNA evidence, with victims often not realising the importance of such evidence."In the case of a serial rapist the actual number of attacks might be 20, but police can only link them to five because of loss of evidence."[New] policies are needed, especially in streamlining the linking of such cases, sharing case information and removing bureaucratic red tape so that investigators are properly assigned and can conduct effective investigations."National police spokesman Lieutenant-General Solomon Makgale said: "Since the DNA Act came into force we have established special teams at our national head office and in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal to pilot new processes to be followed once information about a serial offender has become known."We participated in the formulation of the new policy document to ensure that we standardise the process of setting up provincial teams, consolidate dockets and manage the investigations," Makgale said.

This article is reserved for Sunday Times subscribers.

A subscription gives you full digital access to all Sunday Times content.

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Registered on the BusinessLIVE, Business Day or Financial Mail websites? Sign in with the same details.

Questions or problems? Email helpdesk@timeslive.co.za or call 0860 52 52 00.