barring easy escape

LEBOGANG SEALE

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JUST three months ago, Rosina* thought her dream of becoming a medical doctor was within reach when she enrolled at the medical school of one of the country’s universities.

Excited, she packed her bag and baggage, and travelled all the way from her rural home in Tzaneen to Gauteng.

Her happiness soon turned into agony when a man, who had who promised to help her find accommodation, lured her to his room and raped her.

Violated and humiliated, a distraught Rosina deferred her studies and retreated to her hometown – unable to cope with her ordeal.

More distressing for the 17-year-old was that the charges had been withdrawn against her assailant because DNA evidence had not been collected.

As she recovers from her torment and prepares to resume her studies, Rosina, like many other rape survivors and crime victims, is pinning her hopes on a bill that will hopefully make it compulsory for all suspects and convicted criminals to provide their DNA profiles for a national database.

If the bill is passed, the SAPS will be able to match the DNA evidence collected at the crime scene with DNA profiles on the database.

In this way, perpetrators and previous offenders can be linked to any previous crimes they may have committed.

A DNA policy that could pave the way to have the bill passed will be presented to the National Assembly’s police committee tomorrow.

Two people who will be eagerly awaiting a positive response from Parliament are Vanessa Lynch and Rob Matthews.

Lynch founded the DNA Project with Matthews after the tragic murder of her father, John Lynch. Matthew’s daughter, Leigh, was also murdered, in 2004.

“We have serial offenders acting with impunity and getting away with murder. This (DNA profiling) is a phenomenal way to link offenders to the crimes at the earliest stage,” says Lynch.

“Earlier detection means you can identify them quicker and it just doesn’t make sense not to utilise this criminal intelligence tool (DNA profiling) in a country with such a high crime rate.”

Lynch says legislation being used to regulate this area of the law is outdated and inadequate as it was promulgated more than 30 years ago, long before the advent of DNA profiling in the country.

The legislation, she says, does not have regulatory frameworks, making it mandatory that suspects or convicts have their DNA profiles taken to ascertain whether there is match between profiles taken from the crime scene and the suspects.

“An amendment to the 1977 Criminal Procedures Act will allow for the current DNA database to be expanded to include DNA profiles of offenders. DNA profiling is really accurate and very strong evidence, but currently you can’t take a profile from a convicted offender in SA.”

Lynch says DNA profiling will also help deter criminals and would-be offenders, which will in turn help reduce the high crime incidents afflicting the country.

It will lead to “quicker identification of serial crimes, earlier arrests, valuable intelligence, the exoneration of innocent suspects and the identification of bodies”.

Passing the bill, says Lynch, will also help raise awareness about the value of forensic evidence at the scene of crime.

“A lot of the SAPS, paramedics, (private) security companies and CPFs (Community Policing Forums) need to be aware about the value of securing crime scenes. This will help investigators secure minute amounts of biological evidence, such as a strand of hair or drop of blood left behind by the perpetrator.

‘‘Once we have done that, it will be easier to link a serial offender to a crime scene.

“But all of that cannot happen unless we have legislation to underpin it,” she says.

“We need a holistic view in terms of crime-scene awareness, laboratories, legislation to provide more intelligence to the criminal justice system.”

Contrary to concerns about a huge backlog at forensic science laboratories, Lynch says the rate of DNA testing at the labs has improved dramatically.

She is, however, concerned about the shortage of forensic labs and staff in the country.

“There is a need to increase the number of laboratories and to capacitate them with more analysts,” she says.

Although Lynch has not lost faith in the government, she is concerned about the lack of political will to embrace and implement DNA profiling in SA.

Other countries, such as the UK, have introduced a DNA Expansion Programme – a move which has made giant strides in improving their DNA profiling capacity and implementation.

“In our case, the DNA Bill has been before Parliament since 2008. It shouldn’t have taken so long. There was a period of 20 months where they didn’t do anything. They still have to draft the second version of the bill, then table it and debate it. It’s scary.”

Matthews agrees: “It’s time government demonstrated its seriousness about fighting crime by embracing this bill.

‘‘It should be an absolutely obvious thing, just as fingerprinting when you take your ID book and passport. Why should DNA profiling be something different?”

Lynch continues to remain optimistic, though.

“It’s just a question of the Portfolio Committee deciding how it will work in SA in terms of issues such as categories of crimes, retention of different types of profiles on the database, and from whom and by whom samples will be uplifted at the time of arrest.”

If the DNA policy is accepted tomorrow, it is expected that a second draft of the DNA Bill will be drafted before it is tabled in Parliament in September.

It is hoped that the bill will be passed before the end of the year.


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