Study confirms sexual violence as a common feature in the murders of women and children

Cape Town | A study detailing the prevalence of sexual homicides in South Africa shows that one in five (494 of 2670) women who were killed in 2009 died in the context of sexual violence. Similarly, for the same period, one in twelve (104 of 1277) child homicides had evidence of sexual violence as part of the murder.  

Conducted in 2009, the mortuary-based study is the second of its kind following a similar study in 1999 which shows the relationship between sexual violence and murder in South Africa. The study, is among the few reporting on sexual homicide and has revealed that a decade later, sexual violence homicide incidents among women have increased from 16% in 1999 to 19% in 2009. The study showed a higher rate of sexual homicides in female children as opposed to male children.

Although male children represented a 64.2% proportion of all children murdered over the period, female children were the majority among the child sexual homicide victims (8% male children and 92% female children). The age profile of the child victims showed that children between the ages 13 and 18 represented more than 50% of child sexual homicide cases.

 “The increase in sexual homicide cases in South Africa is an indictment of the gender inequality and social norms that continue to condone violence against women and children, it is even more unacceptable that despite an overall decrease in female homicides, sexual homicides has increased,” says lead author and Unit Director at the South African Medical Research Council’s (SAMRC’s) Gender and Health Research Unit (GHRU) Professor Naeemah Abrahams.

Globally, sexual homicide has been described as a rare event in many countries such as the United States where under 1% of all homicides (male and female) are identified as sexual homicides and in the United Kingdom where 3.7% of those found guilty of homicide included a sexual violent component. However sexual homicides are not rare events in South Africa with approximately 500 adult female cases and 104 children cases in 2009.

The SAMRC, in its efforts to unpack and monitor the trends and prevalence of sexual violence against women and children in South Africa, has conducted a number of crucial studies – one of them being the Rape In Justice study published in 2017. 

Commissioned by the National Prosecution Authority (NPA), the Rape In Justice study highlights how the gaps in the country’s criminal justice system continue to perpetuate unresolved cases of rape with only 340 guilty verdicts emanating from 3 952 reported rape cases.

Essentially, the Rape In Justice study highlights just one of the many aspects of the epidemic that is sexual violence against women and children, it is hoped that the results of the 2nd Sexual Homicide study will further emphasise the urgency with which perpetrators need to be prosecuted.

In the 2nd Sexual Homicide in South Africa study, the victim, perpetrator and crime data was collected by means of mortuary registers, autopsy reports and police interviews with the identification of sexual homicides confirmed across all data collection processes.

Although the 2nd Sexual Homicide Study reports a 28% conviction rate among adult sexual homicides, there was no significant difference in the proportion of convictions among sexual homicides and non-sexual homicide cases among adult females, pointing once again to the lack luster forensic investigation of sexual violence and sexual homicide cases.


Release date: 
Monday, February 26, 2018 - 08:28
Keletso Ratsela
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