Cops under fire for low sexual homicide conviction rates

18 October 2017 - 14:46 By Dave Chambers
DNA evidence is obviously not being used effectively in the identification of perpetrators, says researcher.
DNA evidence is obviously not being used effectively in the identification of perpetrators, says researcher.
Image: Sunday Times

Researchers who uncovered alarming evidence about the rate of sexual homicides involving women and children said shoddy police work left them feeling helpless.

The Medical Research Council team found that the conviction rate for sexual homicides of women was just 28%‚ and for children 46.5%.

“The clear lack of coordination among health‚ police and social services often compromised the management and investigative outcomes of these cases‚” they said.

In response to their findings‚ a pilot project had been started in the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal “to improve the investigation but more importantly to strengthen response systems and prevent future child deaths”.

Naeemah Abrahams‚ from the MRC gender and health research unit‚ led a team who combed through records of women and child murders in 2009. They found that almost one in five (19.8%) of the 2‚670 adult women killed were victims of sexual homicide‚ and almost one in 10 (8.7%) of the 1‚277 child murder victims.

Ten years earlier‚ the rate of sexual homicides among women was almost 18% lower.

Despite these being among the highest rates reported anywhere‚ Abrahams wrote in the journal PLOS ONE: “DNA evidence ... is obviously not being used effectively in the identification of perpetrators.”

The researchers found:

- Strangulation was the leading cause of death among child sexual homicide victims‚ but ranked only fifth for all child homicides;

- Intimate partners were responsible for 42.8% of all adult female homicides but only 22.5% of sexual homicides; and

- Acquaintances were the most common perpetrators of child sexual homicides (37.5%)‚ followed by family members (27.1%).

Abrahams said the study confirmed girls were at much higher risk of sexual homicide than boys. “This sex pattern is resonant of the broader gender differences in experiences of violence‚” she said.

“Sexual violence is a common feature in the lives of many adult women and children in South Africa ... and sexual homicides are therefore located within the broader context of gender inequality and the underlying system of patriarchy.”

The researchers said they defined sexual homicides as those where the post-mortem report included a statement that sexual assault was suspected‚ evidence of genital injuries‚ the body being found with clothes or underwear dislodged or removed‚ the use of a sexual assault evidence kit or a sample of pubic hair taken. 

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