“The DNA Bill has to go back to the police portfolio committee for an amendment on Wednesday. Then it goes back to the National Assembly and there is nothing standing in the way of it. So we are really right there, which is exciting,” said Vanessa Lynch, founder of non-profit organisation The DNA Project.
The Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment Bill, aka the DNA Bill, is a long-awaited piece of legislation that has been passed by the National Council of Provinces and returned to the National Assembly for consideration.
One of the issues that had to be addressed was the removal of the Human Rights Commission (HRC) from the oversight committee as the HRC felt its independence could possibly be compromised by being on the board.
DNA was first discovered in 1869 by Swiss physician Friedrich Miescher. Since then technology has advanced in leaps and bounds, to the point that it is now considered a vital tool in identifying a criminal’s presence at the scene of a crime.
Gérard Labuschagne, head of the police’s investigative psychology section, is quoted in a Cape Times article as saying there are 1 500 active serial rapists in the country.
The Bill would enable the testing of convicts already in the system, which would hopefully close a number of cold cases.
“We are known to have one of the highest recidivism rates in the world so there is no question this is going to link people to multiple crimes,” said Lynch.
An exploratory study by Labuschagne, JA de Wet and PM Chiroro has revealed certain characteristics of South African serial rapists. They studied nine convicted offenders who raped 75 female adults and children between them.
“All the rape series occurred between 1996 and 2006, with seven of the nine series occurring between 2001 and 2003. The victims were from three population groups – black, white and coloured. The ages of the victims ranged from six to 53 years of age. The lowest victim number in a series was three and the highest was 17.”
The study showed the average number of victims was 8.3 and the average length of a series was 8.2 months.
“In most instances the victim was a stranger to the offender and they were approached in 83% of the instances by means of a con-approach.”
A study on single and multiple perpetrator rapes in South Africa by Rachel Jewkes referenced 2010 research in Gauteng which found that “one in 25 women interviewed who had been raped had reported it, and only one in 13 of these women reported rapes not involving an intimate partner”.
It also found that “arrests were made in 54.1% of single perpetrator rape cases and in 38.7% of multiple perpetrator rape cases”.
Lisa Vetten, of shukumisa.org.za, said it had happened in the past that a man had escaped facing two charges of rape because the cases were not linked.
“The magistrates didn’t know about the other cases and they believed the accused’s version of event and he was acquitted.
“The problem is there is no policy. A case might end up at a general detective, there are absolutely not enough Sexual Violence Units and so what happens is that detectives concentrate on children’s cases over adult women’s cases, so you could end up having all three general detectives investigating serial rape cases.”
The DNA Bill seeks to address this with a communication strategy and a training budget of R22 million.
“Improvement of DNA testing and arrests of multiple perpetrator rapes are matters of urgency, and the reasons for the differences in low arrest rates should be the next step …,” wrote Jewkes.