“99% of your serial murderers and serial rapists will approach a complete stranger in the middle of town, at a taxi rank or a bus stop, and offer them a job.”
Dr Gerard Labuschagne investigated more than 200 serial rape cases from 2002 to 2016 while he was the head of the South African Police Service forensic psychology unit.
“If people just didn’t go anywhere with a stranger it would at least force serial rapists to choose a completely different modus operandi, which often doesn’t suit the reasons why they rape. They want to lure them, they want to have the challenge of luring a person, the person doesn’t know what’s coming. It’s a boost in their ego.”
“You don’t have to be well dressed, you don’t need to drive a Porsche, all you have to say is, ‘Do you want a job? It pays R200 a day.’ And they’ll go with you, as simple as that,” says Labuschagne.
Serial rape is a growing concern in South Africa, highlighted in the manhunt underway in Etwatwa township in Ekurhuleni, Gauteng. Police say 25 rape cases in the area are all linked to the same suspect and believe the rapist watches his victims and approaches them under the guise of being a municipality official offering employment.
Labuschagne says serial rapists will continue raping as long as they are free, making it essential for police to use all available techniques to put them behind bars.
“They almost have this inner psychological script – some people call it a fantasy – that guides them, which means they’ll try and repeat it over and over … which is why we say they will continue to commit the crime as long as they are capable and free to continue committing the crime,” says Labuschagne.
DNA has proven to be the most effective means of securing the conviction of serial rapists. South Africa is currently improving its DNA database system after government passed the DNA Act, which requires that police take DNA from convicted criminals and suspects in a range of crimes from theft to murder.
“We’ve never lost a serial rape trial because, if you’ve got 10 to 15 victims and DNA, whatever excuse [the rapist] is giving, you’re going to get a conviction,” says Labuschagne. “Which is why it’s a pity that so few people come forward to report their rapes.”
Kathleen Dey of Rape Crisis in Cape Town says rape survivors are often too traumatised to report the crime. This is one of the reasons only one in nine rapes are reported.
“The ordeal of going through a forensic examination, where the body is viewed as a crime scene, where the clinical forensic specialist takes samples and touches all the same places the rapists has touched within hours or days from that happening, is extremely traumatic as a rape survivor and many of them just simply don’t want to go through that,” says Dey.
A new policy for the investigation and management of serial rape and serial murder is in an advanced stage of finalisation and is waiting approval by Police Minister Fikile Mbalula. The policy hopes to aid the tracking and capturing of serial rapists and murderers.
“We’ve had such a massive increase in serial rape being reported, it’s difficult to say via a percentage whether we are better or worse at catching serial rapists now,” says Labuschagne. “But DNA evidence has certainly helped in convicting these serial rapists and to ensure that they stay behind bars because if they don’t get convicted, they will continue with their crimes.”
By Anthony Molyneaux