Murder of women by strangulation is a serious problem in South Africa say researchers.
Researchers writing in the open access journal BMC Public Health compared four South African cities for the period 2001 to 2005, and report information about the prevalence and timing of attacks, and give details about the victims.
Most cases of strangulation are committed by men against women, as it requires a large disparity in strength between attacker and victim.
According to the authors of the study, Shahnaaz Suffla, Ashley van Niekerk and Najuwa Arendse of the South African Medical Research Council and University of South Africa, "gender-based violence persists as a global problem. In the year 2000, there were an estimated 119 000 female homicides worldwide and South Africa is estimated to have the highest rate of intimate female homicide in the world, despite its democratic transformation, strong emerging economy and widespread structural and social improvements".
What the study found
This study reported rates have generally declined in all the cities, except Cape Town. The highest rates were reported in the over 60 age group and the 20 to 39
year old populations, and amongst women of mixed descent.
Most strangulations occurred from the early morning hours and across typical working hours in Johannesburg and Durban, and to a lesser extent in Cape Town. Occurrences across Johannesburg, Durban and Pretoria were distributed across the days of the week; an exception was Cape Town, which reported the highest rates over the weekend.
Cape Town also reported distinctly high blood alcohol content levels of strangulation victims. The seasonal variation in strangulation deaths suggested a pattern of occurrence generally spanning the period from end-winter to summer.
Across cities, the predominant crime scene was linked to the domestic context, suggesting that perpetration was by an intimate partner or acquaintance.
The study also found that "in urban South Africa, fatal violence in females is clearly distinct from fatal violence in men. Accordingly, current prevention initiatives that address gender-based violence need to be strengthened, and supplementary evidence-based and gender-specific initiatives need to be developed to especially address the forms of violence that instigate fatalities.
The study suggested that dedicated policing teams; stronger legislation aimed at protecting women; universal screening for strangulation injury in women assessed to be victims of intimate partner violence; community-level substance abuse and domestic violence prevention programmes; and accessible and affordable support services and networks are some of the critical prevention initiatives that require development and support at both the local and national levels.
"The prevention of female homicidal strangulation is dependent on the generation of frequent, timely, comprehensive and accurate data on victims, perpetrators and the precipitating circumstances. In particular, homicidal
strangulation in women needs to be further investigated in relation to intimate partner violence, as well as sex crimes. Importantly, research is required on the experiences of women who survive non-lethal strangulation to further identify risk factors," the study reported.
It concluded that "the prevention of female homicidal strangulation in South Africa will ultimately be strengthened by the creation of a social milieu that promotes equity, safety, health and human rights, and justice."
Most women strangled at home
The authors found that most cases of strangulation occurred early in the morning and that, while most victims had drunk no alcohol, drinking more than the legal limit was associated with a higher occurrence than drinking in moderation.
In all of the cities studied, most strangulations occurred in the home. The authors said, "the strangulation rates we found are likely to be high relative to those of other African countries, where the overall homicide rate is up to 30% lower than in South Africa".
While strangulation rates declined over the five years studied in Pretoria, Johannesburg and Durban, they increased in Cape Town. The Western Cape Province, of which Cape Town is the capital and largest metropolitan centre, also reported the highest number of reported cases of rape during this period. According to Suffla and her co-authors, "this supports the proposed link between sexual violence and female strangulation". – (EurekAlert, October 2008)
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