Archive for the ‘Latest News’ Category

 

No need to question the validity of DNA evidence

Tue, Nov 12th, 2013

Whenever a crime is committed and DNA used to assist in the identification of the offender, the question of whether the DNA found at the crime scene is the same as that of the criminal must be asked. In other words, whose DNA it is?

As a geneticist, and having just returned from Interpol’s International DNA Users’ Conference in Lyon where internationally renowned forensic experts spoke repeatedly of the value of DNA Databases used for criminal intelligence purposes, I was astonished to read the article in the Times today (“Whose DNA is it anyway?“, Times LIVE, November 12) which quotes Prof. Muller as saying that “the probability that someone else would have the same DNA profile as that of the sample obtained at a crime scene was one in 2 million”. In South Africa our forensic science laboratory analyses 9 different locations in the DNA molecule to determine a forensic profile and obtain probabilities in the region of at least 1 in a billion.

After the passing of the legislation, South Africa will be using technology which is even more reliable as they will be analysing 15 locations in the DNA and will then obtain probabilities of another person, other than the suspect, having the same profile as that found at the crime scene of between 1 in 10 billion and 1 in an octillion – this is an extremely exact, valid and reliable science! Furthermore, it is incorrect to say that there is a 5% chance that two people listed in even a small database would have the same DNA profile. The value of DNA evidence lies in the fact that no two people share the same DNA (except identical twins) – that is if sufficient locations on the DNA molecule are analysed, which indeed they are if 9 or more are considered.

To answer the question can forensic DNA analysts determine whether the suspect is, beyond reasonable doubt, the source of the DNA left at a crime scene – yes, absolutely. What remains is however to determine how the crime was committed and whether in fact the suspect committed the crime. These are questions that only a court can decide after the investigating officer has provided the court with information on ALL forms of evidence in the case.

For example, were there any eyewitnesses, does the suspect live in the same geographical area, what was the possible motive? DNA evidence is invariably only one form of evidence in a case, but with the chances of anyone else having the same profile being very close to zero, it is extremely compelling.

In a country that has the highest incidence of sexual assault in the world and where a child is raped every 3 minutes, who could possibly argue against the fact that our DNA database should be expanded to include people suspected and convicted of this type of offence? Add to this the well-known fact that 90% of rapists re-offend… a DNA database of previous offenders will provide investigators with valuable leads in cases where there is no known suspect and assist in crime resolution.

The new DNA Bill cannot be passed soon enough.

In order to reduce crime in South Africa we need to make use of this cutting edge technology to ensure that criminals are held accountable for their actions.

Dr. Carolyn Hancock (PhD Genetics)

Director: DNA Project

If you want to have your say, read how…

Sun, May 19th, 2013

You have until the 30th May 2013 to stand up and be counted in South Africa’s fight against crime.

Every day innocent people needlessly become victims of violent crimes in our country. Most of these are committed by repeat offenders. By sending a strong message to the South African Government to pass legislation that enables law enforcers to collect DNA from arrestees and convicted offenders we can catch criminals sooner. That means you can help prevent most of these crimes, save more lives, and provide more protection to the innocent. Sign up today to show that you believe that the proposed DNA legislation, officially known as The Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment Bill B09-2013 currently before Parliament should be made law. If passed, this law will revolutionise crime scene investigation in South Africa in line with best international practice and increase the number of convictions secured.

Stand up and be counted!

Stand up and be counted!

The Portfolio Committee on Police has invited all interested people to submit written comments on the Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment Bill by no later than the 30 May 2013. You can also sign our petition by clicking on the following link Sign our petition here and show your support to Pass the DNA Legislation!

If you believe that our Government should pass this vitally important legislation, then please show your support and  draft a submission to Parliament. Written submissions addressed to the Portfolio Committee on Police, should be directed to the Committee Secretary, Babalwa Mbengo, and posted to P. O. Box 15, Cape Town 8000, or e-mailed to bmbengo@parliament.gov.za or faxed to 086 665 5444.  You must indicate your interest in making a verbal presentation to the Committee in your submission, should you wish to do so.

You may wish to include in your submission some or all of the following points:

As a concerned South African citizen, I welcome the introduction of the Criminal Law (Forensics Procedures) Bill into Parliament and support its promulgation into law as a matter of extreme urgency to help fight crime in our country. The passing of this Bill, in its current form,  into law will help identify serial offenders at an early stage of the investigation as well as link perpetrators to their crimes through an objective and reliable science. It will also ensure that the innocent are exonerated.

  • The existing DNA Database in South Africa which has through default, evolved under the governance of the Criminal Procedure Act of 1977, is a wholly inadequate tool for regulating the use and retention of DNA profiles on a National DNA Database. The new Bill ensures that the future of the current DNA Database is expanded and managed in a regulated and appropriate manner.
  • I endorse the provision that makes it mandatory to take DNA samples from suspects at the time of arrest and believe that it should extend to all arrestees and not just those arrested for schedule one offences.
  • It is imperative to ensure that all convicted offenders DNA samples are taken retrospectively and before their release from prison.
  • I further support the provision that trained Police Officers be allowed to take non intimate DNA samples from arrestees and convicted offenders. The collection of a non-intimate DNA sample by a specially trained police officer from an arrestee or convicted offender ensures that a sample is quickly and easily uplifted. The “invasiveness” of the methods of obtaining DNA samples (rubbing a swab around the person’s mouth, or obtaining a drop or two of blood from a pin-prick to a finger), are no different to having a breathalyser taken on suspicion of drunken driving.
  • The DNA Bill ensures the creation of a DNA database in South Africa that will function effectively not only as a tool for gathering inculpatory evidence, but also for gathering exculpatory evidence, to appropriately eliminate suspects and so safeguard against wrongful convictions or other miscarriages of justice.
  • The way in which the DNA profiles are stored on the DNA Database, namely by using markers from the non coded regions of a person’s DNA ensures that no genetic disposition or other distinguishing feature may be read from that profile other than gender. The retention of the profile, in that form, is the same as a fingerprint, and therefore its retention does not impact on the privacy of the individual in any way whatsoever.
  • The creation of a Reference Index, Crime Scene Index and Convicted Offender Index ensures that DNA profiles are appropriately stored and managed.
  • The DNA Bill adequately retains an appropriate balance between the rights of individuals and the respect for privacy. The new Bill has been carefully drafted to ensure that  the DNA Database is maximized to its full potential in combating and preventing crime in South Africa, whilst still ensuring that it has minimal impact on the civil rights of its citizens.
  • The Bill importantly calls for an Oversight Committee to be formed which will monitor the implementation of this legislation. The Oversight Committee will monitor the collection and storage of samples, the performance of the Forensic Science Laboratory and the National Forensic DNA Database. The Board will ensure compliance with ethical and privacy issues and ensure minimum quality standards are set and adhered to. Over time the Oversight Committee will establish the effectiveness of the legislation in the fight against crime and review the Bill in order that any necessary changes are made to maximise the efficiency of the use of the Database as a criminal intelligence tool.
  • The  DNA Bill shows that the Government has explicitly tackled the scourge of crime in South Africa by demonstrating that if there is any perceived intrusion on an individual through the retention of their DNA profile, it is outweighed by a demonstrated and long awaited  interest in protecting its citizens against serious and violent and crimes.
  • In order to ensure the successful implementation of this legislation, I believe that First-on-crime scene police investigators, as well as key personnel involved in crime scenes, including the private security and emergency services sector, must be trained in how to identify, collect and preserve DNA evidence at crime scenes, so that critical evidence can be collected and fewer cases will be at risk of being jeopardised due to the mishandling of evidence. In addition, officers of the courts must be educated in how DNA evidence technology works to corroborate a case against a suspect or exonerate a suspect quickly, thereby decreasing delays in court.
  • The public interest which is served by the new Bill, is important, especially in cases of violent crime where DNA matching has been proven  to be invaluable in matching a suspect to a crime scene. I believe the Bill, when passed,  will have a profound impact on the criminal justice system in South Africa.

8,000 Men Asked to Provide DNA for 1999 Murder Case in The Netherlands

Mon, Oct 15th, 2012

September 2012
(The following article first appeared in DNA Forensics: News and Information about DNA Databases)

During a press conference in Drachten, in Friesland,  a Northern province of  The Netherlands, the public prosecution’s office announced that approximately 8,000 men have been asked to provide DNA samples to help solve the 1999 murder of Marianne Vaatstra, a 16-year-old girl.  Miss Vaatstra’s body was found in a field in her town, Zwaagwesteinde. All of the men that were asked to give a DNA sample live within three miles of where the murder occurred, an area that encompasses 12 villages. Law enforcement officials also stated that no person asked to give their DNA will be forced to comply. This is the largest DNA Dragnet of its kind ever undertaken in the Netherlands.

The Dutch television crime journalist Peter R de Vries, made a recent documentary about the Vaatstra murder.  De Vries became well-known in the United States through his documentary about the  disappearance of the 18 year-old American student Natalee Holloway in Aruba in 2005. De Vries was able to secretly video tape Joran Van der Sloot, confessing to another man that he had killed Natalee Holloway.
De Vries produced a TV-documentary this past May giving information about a Playboy cigarette lighter found in Miss Vaatstra’s bag which contained DNA traces that matched the traces found on the schoolgirl’s body. Tips following the broadcast showed the lighter was on sale in the local area at the time, including in the village of Zwaagwesteinde where she lived.

Marianne Vaatstra

Marianne Vaatstra

After the press conference, Marianne’s father, Mr. Bauke Vaatstra made an emotional appeal for men to take part in the investigation. “This is the last means of finding Marianne’s killer,” he said. “Please give your DNA.”  The National Forensic Institute in The Netherlands, is also carrying out further research in the Dutch national DNA database to try to find relatives of the probable killer. Law enforcement is looking at Familial DNA, as they suspect that the real killer will not come forward to give a DNA sample.

Read related articles here.

DNA Project invited to attend Official Opening of the W.Cape Forensic Science Lab.

Mon, Jul 16th, 2012

The recently appointed National Commissioner of Police, General Phiyega has extended an invitation to The DNA Project to attend the official opening of the Western Cape’s new Forensic Science Lab in Plattekloof, tomorrow, 17th July 2012.

This promises to be a truly exciting event where the state of the art DNA laboratory will be showcased, amongst the other forensic disciplines situated in the new lab. This bodes well for the future of forensic science in South Africa as not only will the new lab address the need for increased capacity in this area, but it will also allow for more efficient processing of forensic cases due to the cutting edge technology being housed in the new lab.

The DNA Project has in addition been asked to appear on Morning Live tomorrow, 17th July 2012 and will be interviewed by etv in the wake of the new DNA Policy adopted by the Portfolio Committee for Police and how the new forensic lab will impact on the Committee’s expectations in terms of increased capacity which the new legislation will demand.

Vanessa Lynch will be representing the DNA Project tomorrow at the opening of the lab as well as on Morning Live and will provide live updates and photographs on facebook and twitter during the course of day. Watch this space to share in this historical event.

Forensic Science Invite

‘I was bored, so I raped’

Tue, Jun 19th, 2012

Of the 37 783 prisoners released under the presidents special remission in the spirit of Freedom Day, 47 are already back in jail and facing charges including murder, attempted murder and rape reports Botho Molosankwe


PN prisoners1

A prisoner who benefited from President Jacob Zuma’s special remission of sentences was re-arrested after he broke into a woman’s house and raped her – because he was bored.

The man had been free for only two weeks when he re-offended.

The man, who was released from a prison in Wepener, Free State, on May 8, allegedly committed the housebreaking and rape offences on May 22.

According to the Department of Correctional Services, the man said he had committed the crimes because he had nothing to do.

The man, who cannot be named as he has yet to plead, is one of the 37 783 prisoners who were released from various prisons across the country following Zuma’s special remission of sentence to certain categories of prisoners.

However, within a month of their early release, 47 are already back behind bars and facing charges of murder, attempted murder, rape, robbery, assault, kidnapping, theft, stock theft, possession of drugs, possession of stolen goods and housebreaking.

The re-offenders, when asked why they had committed the crimes so soon after their release, blamed boredom, homelessness, hunger, poverty, drug addiction and unemployment.

Another man, who had initially been arrested for assault, committed murder just after being released. The Limpopo, man had been out for only two days.

“He is alleged to have gone home and found his girlfriend with another man. A fight broke out and he is alleged to have killed the girlfriend’s lover.

One man who was serving time for attempted murder when he was released was re-arrested on charges of committing the same offence.

Another man, who was on parole for housebreaking and theft, was arrested just a few hours after being granted his freedom. Khumalo said that as part of his parole conditions, correctional services officials used to check on him periodically at home.

On May 9, they told him that he was now a free man and would no longer be getting visits from them. A few hours later, the man was behind bars for housebreaking and theft, again.

Khumalo said that although the prisoners were released out of a gesture of humanity, those who had re-offended had spat in the face of the government that had released them.

“And other departments are affected too. The police have to hunt them and take them to police stations. The Justice Department has to invest time and effort to bring the suspects to book and sentence them. And we, as Correctional Services, have to update our records,” Khumalo pointed out.

Correctional Services is expected to conduct pre-release assessments and run pre-release preparation programmes.

Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said Zuma had “noted what had happened and would take that into consideration as we move forward”.

__________

The DNA Project  cannot help but surmise how many more of the 37, 783 ex-cons released may be committing more crimes – but we have no way of detecting them because we have no legislation which mandates that all arrestees or at the very least convicted offenders, have their DNA profile entered onto a national DNA database. Instead, because of the delay in passing this vital legislation, these criminals have been released with little opportunity to protect the public when they return to crime. DNA Databases have been proven to not only identify the most violent criminals, but have also served to exonerate those wrongly arrested and convicted. If these individuals who had been released had had their DNA taken and entered onto the database, they would be identified at an earlier stage and more reliably than ever before. So, because of the fact that we have to wait until the DNA legislation is passed, South Africans have just been given 37,783 more reasons to ask the Portfolio Committee on Police to finally pass the DNA database legislation.

Latest News: 58 Free Flightings of our Advert on DSTV and MNET

Mon, Apr 2nd, 2012

The DNA Project is extremely excited to have been given 68 free slots on DSTV and MNET to show our TV Commercial, The Cigarette that Saved Lives. This airtime will allow The DNA Project to disseminate this vital information on crime scene preservation  and the importance of DNA evidence in crime resolution to the general public. Our advert will be featured on M-Net HD, SuperSport, Action, KykNet and M-Net Series channel which amounts to 68 spots at the value of R450 000!

A special thanks need to go out to FoxP2 for conceptualizing the idea behind the TV commercial and CAL (Change a Life) for supporting the production.

Criminal Foiled By Discarded Water Bottle

Wed, Oct 5th, 2011

I came across the below story yesterday when reading about interesting cases in the quarterly Forensic DNAResource Report. It caught my eye not because I think catching a petty thief in the USA is a particularly serious offence – but because at the scene of my father’s murder in Johannesburg, SA,  the perpetrators who shot my dad just prior to breaking into our family home, had been drinking brandy and coke in the garden out of an old coke bottle. This bottle, which contained valuable DNA evidence as to who was present at the crime scene when my father was killed, was later discarded by the police. When I asked why they had done that, they said to me that ‘we do not have the technology in this country to uplift DNA evidence from the bottle’. This is not only untrue, but illustrates the tragedy of destroying valuable evidence from a crime scene which could ultimately have convicted the people who murdered my father. There was only one chance to collect and preserve that evidence, and it was lost. Forever. We can never go back – and as such, that crucial link to my father’s killers, lost with it.

This is why I am so passionate about creating crime scene awareness in South Africa. We need to all become forensically aware and prevent this type of thing from happening over and over again. The rationale behind this objective is that without the proper preservation and collection of valuable DNA and other forensic evidence left at a crime scene, the opportunity to link the perpetrator to the crime committed, will be lost.

Don’t let it happen. Ask us how you can be part of the solution. If you or your community/group/workforce are interested in receiving DNA Awareness training or know of any group who would benefit from this information, please contact us via maya@dnaproject.co.za and she will send you the necessary information.

Here is the story:

Police: Year-old Boca Grande burglary solved

July 28, 2011

Charlotte County Sheriff’s detectives say they have solved a year-old case thanks to a DNA match of the burglar who left behind a bottle of water.

A home in Boca Grande on the Charlotte County side was burgled in June 2010. Police say the burglar entered through a second-story window and stole televisions, three dirt bikes and a Volkswagen Euro Van. The van was recovered in Sarasota County but the three dirt bikes were not recovered.

Crime scene technicians located fingerprints and found a bottle of water in the home. On July 13, police say the water bottle tested positive for Eric William Griffith, whose details were already on the database.

Detectives arrested Griffith at his home Tuesday and charged him with burglary, grand theft motor vehicle and grand theft.

Groundbreaking New Training Program Developed

Mon, Aug 15th, 2011

DNA Project team

DNA Project Team

Members of the DNA Project gathered together in Cape Town last month for the 2nd Annual DNA Project’s Trainers Workshop. The objective of this year’s workshop was to critically assess the DNA Awareness Campaign we have been running for the past year to identify whether any changes or improvements needed to be made to the programme, based on the field experience of our Trainers who have been hosting workshops throughout South Africa.

The second and more exciting reason for the gathering was to ‘brainstorm’ around the development of the innovative new ‘Train the Trainer’ program which the DNA Project wants to initiate as phase two of its DNA Awareness Campaign.

Currently, the way in which we have been disseminating DNA Awareness to the private security sector, guarding services, emergency services, community police forums, the justice system and general public, has been through directly contacting these sectors of the community and offering to host free DNA Awareness workshops at their respective premises.  We believe, however, that a more effective approach to ensure DNA Awareness training would be to introduce DNA Awareness training at Trainer level, which enables those organisations which conduct their own training to provide ongoing DNA Awareness training at their premises at their own convenience. We believe that by including DNA Awareness training as part of their basic crime scene management training, it will ensure that they are comprehensively taught about the value of crime scene preservation. In addition, no matter what the turnover of staff is within a company, each new employee will automatically receive DNA Awareness training at entry level. By creating DNA Awareness as an industry standard, these  sectors of the community will be able to offer this as an added value service to their existing protocols.

In other words, instead of ‘fishing’ for the community we would like to teach these sectors  how to ‘fish for themselves’.

How will a Train the Trainer workshop differ from our basic DNA Awareness Workshop we currently offer?

The Train the Trainer workshop will consist of a full day’s training, whereby an instructor from the DNA Project will impart the basics of the science behind DNA forensics and crime scene preservation. These Train the Trainer workshops, as with the DNA Awareness workshops, will be sponsored by the DNA Project and thus will be free of charge.

Course Outline

  • A simple summary of DNA, the techniques of DNA profiling and the benefits of a National DNA Criminal Intelligence Database in crime investigation.
  • The responsibilities of the First Officer attending the crime scene with potential DNA evidence will be covered.
  • The Trainers will be taught how to identify the potential sources, locations and limitations of DNA evidence so that they can pass on this valuable information to Trainees during crime scene training.
  • An overview of the correct handling and packaging of samples from crime scenes, suspects and complainants and who should be doing what.
  • Trainees will be provided with information relating to the legislation that regulates the use of DNA as an evidential tool.
  • The Trainees will briefed as to what actually happens in a South African Forensic Lab  and how much of “CSI” is fact and what is fiction.
  • The central message of our DNA Awareness Campaign will be covered, and the reasons why these six steps are so important will be explored , namely:

“DNA CSI”

D = DON’T TOUCH

N= NOTE & RECORD

A = ASSIST OTHER OFFICERS

C = COMFORT & SUPPORT VICTIMS

S = SECURE THE CRIME SCENE

I = INSIST NO-ONE INTERFERES

For more information, or if you interested in attending a Train the Trainer workshop or DNA Awareness workshop, please contact Maya Moodley at the DNA Project on maya@dnaproject.co.za or tel (021) 418 0647.

Raped again – by the system

Wed, Jun 8th, 2011

The article written by Chris Asplen has now been published in Gauteng (Saturday Star, 11 June 2011) , KZN (The Witness, 10 June 2011) and the Western Cape (Sunday Argus, 5 June 2011). The Editor of the Saturday Star took it one step further and commented on Chis Asplen’s article in his Editorial. This is what he had to say:

The editorial refers to the article which has appeared in all three major provinces in South Africa, which was originally written and published in an international Forensic Magazine. It is an opinion piece written by Chris Asplen, who was recently in South Africa, and which visit obviously drove him to write this article. It is uncomprisingly direct and honest and very hard hitting insofar as how the international forensic community view our MP’s. I wonder if any of the members of the portfolio committee for police who are ‘reviewing’ the DNA Bill, read this about themselves? And if so, how did it make them feel? I personally, would not like to have the blood of these and future victims on my hands. Perhaps, however they will prove Mr Asplen wrong, and actually get on with the job at hand this year? Well, we live in hope, as do all the rape survivors and future victims…

Forensic DNA Database legislation urgently needed amid rape epidemic

I am a former prosecutor in the United States where I was the advisor to two US Attorneys General on the use of forensic DNA technology and where I was the Executive Director of the US Department of Justice’s National Commission on the Future of DNA Evidence.  My specialty as a prosecutor was the prosecution of sex crimes committed against children. I left the Department of Justice about 10 years ago and began consulting internationally on the integration of forensic DNA evidence into criminal justice systems. I have been fortunate to help over 35 countries realize the potential of DNA technology to protect victims – mostly women and children – from the horrors of rape. I have spent equal time and energy to protect  the innocent – mostly men – from the tragedy of wrongful conviction with the very same technology.

When I first started working abroad, my presentations would often start with a rhetorical question that went something like this:  “What is the most important factor influencing the success of forensic DNA databasing?  Is it the quality of the laboratory performing the analysis? Is it the training and education of the police ensuring that they collect valuable evidence?  Or perhaps the skill with which prosecutors can leverage the probative value of DNA to support their victims’ testimony?” But of course it was a loaded question.  I had my own answer. “It’s actually none of these…” I would say. “The most important factor influencing the potential effect of DNA in any criminal justice system is what the law allows you to do with it.”

Now I am a little biased here.  I am a lawyer by training, by education and probably by nature. But I have a pretty good argument.  You can have the best, most advanced laboratory system in the world, the most rigorous quality assurance procedures, and send specialized crime scene analysts to every crime scene – but those factors mean little if the law does not allow you leverage the full potential of the technology and the evidence.

Nowhere is that dynamic more tragically clear than in South Africa.

I first traveled to South Africa 10 years ago. I left the Department of Justice less than a year earlier and had been invited to participate in a meeting of Interpol’s DNA Expert Monitoring Group in Pretoria.  It was my first trip to the continent so to say that I was excited is an understatement. I did not, in all honesty though, harbor great expectations regarding what I would see from the standpoint of South Africa’s use of DNA technology. But when I saw what the South African Police Service (SAPS) was doing, I was nothing short of astounded.  The SAPS had an automated system for DNA analysis that was unique in the world.  As we toured through the laboratory I realized that it was, at that time,  the most advanced forensic DNA testing robotics system I had ever seen.  I was so impressed that I literally walked out of the lab, got on my phone and called my former colleagues at DOJ trying to convince them to bring Johann and his colleagues to the US so that they could explain what they were doing.  South Africa was going to be a model, not only for Africa, but perhaps for the world.  They had crime statistics that proved South Africa to be one of the most sexually violent places on the planet and they had the capacity and technical sophistication to hit back hard.  South Africa was going to prove the power of DNA like nowhere else.

The automated DNA Robotics system at the Pretoria Forensics Lab

The automated DNA Robotics system at the Pretoria Forensics Lab

Boy was I wrong.

I have just returned from another trip to South Africa, a trip I have made many times since my first visit. And to be clear, it is not the police that have failed, nor is it the technology, nor is it the laboratory personnel.  Rather, ten years after South Africa created one of the most important laboratory infrastructures in the world, the politicians in the South African Parliament have still failed to give police the legal authority to save literally thousands upon thousands of lives with DNA.  Ten years later and South Africa, in contrast with more than 50 countries around the world, still has no legislation allowing for the establishment of a forensic DNA database.

South Africa is a strikingly beautiful country from its coast line at the Cape of Good Hope to Krugar National Park to the wine regions of Stellenbosch.  It is also the economic anchor for sub-Saharan Africa.   It has a technology portfolio that includes a nuclear weapons program (and the wisdom to subsequently dismantle it) a 2002 Noble Prize for work in microbiology and the first human to human heart transplant was performed in South Africa.   And most importantly, it is a country which engineered one of the most significant triumphs of human spirit and potential – the non-violent elimination of apartheid

But South Africa is also a country that, according to the United Nations, ranks second for murder and first for assaults and rapes per capita. 52 people are murdered every day there and the number of rapes reported in a year is around 55,000.  It is estimated that 500,000 rapes are committed annually in South Africa. In a 2009 survey, one in four South African men admitted to raping someone.  Even more insidiously, South Africa has one of the highest incidences of child and baby rape in the world.  It is a country where the belief exists that intercourse will cure or prevent HIV/AIDS and where child rape is used as a method of retaliation against someone else for a perceived wrong.  Children are murdered and body parts used for “traditional” medicinal remedies.  And in a country also cursed with epidemic rates of HIV/Aids, rape takes on an exponentially tragic dimension.

The world holds no shortage of human tragedies.  But most of those tragedies persist because there are no clear, identifiable fixes.  Feeding entire starving countries from overworked, infertile land or generating clean, lifesaving water from dry, parched earth are heavy lifts.  Wars and the conflicts that lead to catastrophic loss of human life have been with us since the beginning of time.  But when it comes to fighting back against serial rapists and pedophiles? I have examples from every corner of the planet of exactly what works and just how well.  There is nothing better at getting rapists off the street, at protecting little girls and, by the way, at protecting those who would be wrongly accused and convicted of those serious crimes than DNA databases.

And what exacerbates the tragedy tenfold is the fact that, unlike many countries with the wisdom to implement DNA databases fully, South Africa already has all the other components necessary to leverage the power DNA technology -the laboratory system, the finances, the education and the commitment by police. There are no other excuses, nowhere  else to place responsibility.

As someone who works regularly in other peoples’ countries, I don’t “call out” or criticize foreign  officials easily or often.  But on a scale unequaled anywhere else on earth, hundreds of thousands of children’s lives are sacrificed because of the failure to act by politicians in South Africa.  The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee responsible for the legislation that would give police the ability to immediately begin taking rapists off the street has avoided acting on the law for years.  The legislation sits in Committee while the worst sexual violence statistics in the world continue to pile up.   Except they are not really statistics. They are terrified woman and little girls staring into the face of horrific violence and evil while they are likely infected with HIV – three more of them just in the time it took you to read this article.

Chris Asplen

Executive Director, DNA 4 Africa

Casplen@DNA4Africa.org

What the criminals think

Mon, May 23rd, 2011

What do people who have their profiles on International DNA databases think?

Vanessa has recently written about the Darwin debate that we were involved in at UCT. The debate highlighted many social and ethical issues regarding forensic DNA databases. Interestingly, soon thereafter a friend forwarded me two relevant articles that looked at some of these issues from an entirely different perspective. Both articles discussed research into at what convicted persons thought about having their profiles kept on a forensic database. The first was written by Machado et al (2011) after interviewing 31 Portuguese prisoners. These prisoners were between 22 and 49 years of age and had been convicted of a variety of crimes including homicide, rape, drug trafficking, burglary and driving without a permit. The second study conducted by Stackhouse et al (2010) looked at a slightly different group of people – they interviewed 84 young people between the ages of 15 and 19. 72 had been arrested and had their profiles retained on the UK National DNA database. 58 of them had been found guilty of offences ranging from grievous bodily harm and assault to driving offences.

What was especially interesting about the findings of these studies was that the majority of people (those interviewed that have their DNA profiles on a national database) think that their profiles should be there. They also believe that even if someone is found “innocent” and is acquitted then their profiles should be retained on the database. So whilst politicians and human rights groups contend that profiles should not be kept on a database as this infringes on peoples right to privacy, prisoners argue that as the technology associated with forensic DNA analysis is so reliable and accurate, they would prefer for their profiles to be retained on a database. Their reasoning is that they believe that if police have their profiles on record then they can easily be eliminated from investigations following their release from prison. They felt that having their profiles on the database would actually contribute towards protecting them from police automatically assuming that as ex-convicts they would be involved with the perpetration of similar crimes. One young person claimed “If they’ve got your DNA on there just leave it, I mean he knows he ain’t a criminal so just leave it there…. Just to prove again that it wasn’t me.” Another person thought that having your profile removed may actually seem suspicious – “Why would you want it taken off, unless you were up to something…” This is in agreement with the British Home Office’s opinion that “persons who do not go on to commit an offence have no reason to fear the retention of the information”.

Both these articles referred to an earlier publication written by Prainsack and Kitzberger in 2009 where 26 convicted offenders in Austria were interviewed. All but two of the offenders viewed national DNA databases in a positive light. Their reasons included: (1) It helped to catch serious offenders such as rapists, murderers and paedophiles (2) They helped prove innocence (3) They forced police to carry out proper investigations and not to just arrest people who had previously committed similar offences. This study showed that many of those interviewed concurred with the fact that if they had committed an offence then they should be held accountable and that they deserved to be on the database– “If somebody does something, then they should bear the consequences”.

The results of these studies highlight the need to determine what all sectors of the public, including those already on a database, think about what profiles should be entered onto a database and when if ever that information should be removed. Food for thought …….what do you think?

Carolyn