#Totalshutdown movement in the SADC region

Vulnerable woman

In the wake of Rhodes University student activist Khensani Maseko’s suicide after being allegedly raped by her boyfriend, as part  of Women’s Month, women from different SADC countries in collective took to the streets to stand in solidarity as part of #Totalshutdown protests.

#Thetotalshutdown movement is an organisation of feminist and gender activists that is about highlighting the vulnerability of girls and young women in the communities they live in.

According to Stats SA’s Crime against women in South Africa 2018 report, the 2016/17 Victims of Crime statistical release reported that 250 out of every 10 000 women were victims of sexual offences compared to 120 out of every 1000 000 men. 

Furthermore, the statistics also note that 80% of reported sexual offences at the South African Police Service in 2016/17 were incidents of rape.

In South Africa every day women are encouraged to break the silence, but an unfair and unjust system discourages them from bringing the perpetrators to the book.

A rape survivor in South Africa who summons up the courage to report the crime to the police has less than a one in 10 chance of seeing the perpetrator convicted. To be precise: in only 8.6% of such cases will there be a guilty verdict – this according to the Mail & Guardian newspaper.

While sexual assault cases can be complex, Inqaba Biotechnical Industries Senior DNA Analyst, Mischa Francesca Fraser, believes that when law enforcement investigates a case of sexual violence, DNA evidence can make or break the outcome. 

Rape cases are typically investigated with all-chromosomes markers, but the presence of the victim’s DNA can mask other DNA or make it difficult to distinguish it from the perpetrator. 

“To discriminate between the male assailant’s genetic material and the female victim’s genetic material, a male specific DNA profile must be generated. It is important to obtain this male specific DNA profile, to isolate the perpetrator’s genetic profile, to determine the paternal lineage of the perpetrator (a lead that can help identify the paternal family of the perpetrator) and of course to exclude innocent suspects,” Fraser explained.

“It is also important to remember that only using one type of genetic evidence, such as Y-chromosome evidence, may not be enough to implicate a suspect. It is important to use multiple evidence types (Y-chromosome evidence being only one) to convict a perpetrator,” she added.

Inqaba Biotechnical Industries is currently working on a DNA collection kit that is expected to assist in better examination of rape and sexual assault cases, including some cold cases, as well as studies of paternal genealogies, lineages and which will provide various opportunities for bio-anthropological research.

“Current profiling kits have DNA markers that show poor discrimination capacity between individuals on this continent, for which we believe our kit provides greater resolution. In addition, there is poor or lack of reference data to evaluate the weight of the evidence,” she said.

“Reference data is required for the statistical probability of the occurrence of a certain profile in a large population, for which we need to compare against hundreds of thousands of others. Basically, the statistical analysis provides you with a measure of how likely the suspect is the perpetrator. We are currently developing such a reference system which will be made publicly available, to support the use of our profiling system,” she added.

While the forensic testing of genetic material can resolve many cases, more especially for the most vulnerable in the society, i.e. women and children who are unable to provide accurate descriptions or vocalise their descriptions to the authorities, if a genetic profile is generated and can be compared to suspected perpetrators, this evidence can be used to assist in the accurate identification of the perpetrator or exclude innocent suspects.

The Forensic Genotyping Kit project is one of the many beneficiaries of the SANBio / BioFISA II funding, with a focus on innovations in both human and animal health and nutrition, also covering in vitro diagnostics, forensics and healthy food innovations.