THERE are roughly 1 500 serial rapists in the country, who have been active during the past three years – and these are just the ones the police are aware of.
But, despite the overwhelming number of cases, there are only five specialised police officers countrywide dedicated to investigating these types of criminals, says Gérard Labuschagne, head of the police’s investigative psychology section.
Situated in Pretoria and falling under the police’s forensic sciences division, the section probes psychologically-motivated crimes including muti murders, other unusual murders, serial killings and serial rapes. At any given time the section, which is stretched to capacity, is investigating a number of criminals around the country.
“When we detect some cases, we forward them on because there are too many for us to get involved in,” Labuschagne said in an exclusive telephone interview permitted by the national police.
“We’re always busy. There’s never a moment we’re not busy with a serial case in the country.”
In recent cases the section has dealt with, Thabo Bester, who became known as the “Facebook rapist”, was arrested two weeks ago and pleaded guilty to raping two models in Durban in August.
He was sentenced to 50 years imprisonment and faces more charges in Cape Town and Gauteng.
On Monday, Johannes Jacobus Steyn admitted to being the “Sunday rapist” who preyed on young girls in Gauteng and North West.
He also faces additional charges including 13 counts of rape, one of murder and 10 of kidnapping.
Labuschagne said there were currently about 1 500 serial rapists on the police’s database.
Some of these were still on the loose, some were in police custody awaiting trial and others may have been convicted. “But it’s impossible to know exactly how many (serial rapists) there actually are. We always assume there are more,” Labuschagne said.
All the 1 500 serial rapists on the database had committed a rape within the past three years.
Labuschagne said rapists were usually tracked using DNA samples and were classified as serial after committing two rapes.
“DNA is the easiest way to track them. When a case is opened we check at neighbouring police stations to see if there are similar cases. We look in other areas only if there’s a reason to look in that specific area,” he said.
Labuschagne said the police had a serial DNA unit in their forensics laboratory which had the list of serial rapists.
DNA samples of suspected rapists were tested and this was how more incidents could be linked to the rapists already on the list, or more names were added to it.
When the DNA unit had a “double hit” – when the DNA sample of a rapist matched another sample – he was classified as a serial rapist and investigations into his actions were intensified.
Labuschagne said there tended to be more serial rapists in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. He did not know why.
He said the Western Cape had also had its share of serial rapists.
But he said up until about a year ago it had been difficult to track serial rapists operating in the Western Cape as officers in the police’s Western Cape Forensic Science Laboratory had only tested certain victims’ samples.
Usually, when a rape survivor was sexually assaulted and the matter was reported to the police, a sexual assault kit was compiled.
Samples, including bodily fluids forming part of the kit, were then tested and those results could then be matched to a blood sample taken from the rape suspect, linking a suspect to a rape survivor.
Labuschagne said previously, sexual assault kits from survivors in cases where a suspect had not been identified, had not been processed in the province’s forensics laboratory.
“The thinking was, if you don’t have a suspect why process that sample,” Labuschagne said.
He said this had changed in the past year when a new police officer had been put in charge of the laboratory, and now all samples were processed.
This made it easier to link suspects to cases, and police could therefore see if they could be regarded as serial rapists.
Labuschagne said aside from serial rapists, the investigative psychology section probed serial killers. “If there’s a murder series (a serial killer), no matter how busy we are we always get involved,” he said.
In Labuschagne’s 10 years in the investigative psychology section he said he had probed more than 70 serial murder cases and 200 serial rape cases.
Members of his section went out and helped detectives investigate a specific crime. They generally did not take over the investigation, but assisted and guided where they could.
Labuschagne said he hoped satellite stations, branching from the investigative psychology section, would be established in the provinces during the next two years as this would ease the section’s workload.
He said he was involved in training other police officers and once a year gave short presentations to detectives to sensitise them to the crimes they were likely to investigate.