Day Two – DNA Conference

I am sitting in Freedom Park in Pretoria where I am attending and presenting at the Victim Empowerment Conference:DNA Narratives hosted by Inqaba Biotec. I arrived yesterday afternoon in time to hear the presentations of Rob and Debbie Smith as well as Chris Asplen. Both presentations have provided me with new ideas as to how we can possibly motivate our Portfolio Committee to get our DNA Bill passed, and quickly.

Rob & Debbie Smith with Vanessa Lynch

Listening to Debbie Smith relate her story of how she was brutally raped and the far reaching consequences of that attack, made me realise how hardened we, as South Africans, have become in response to the daily trauma we endure as a result of crime. Debbie was raped in 1989 and talks about the experience today as if it happened yesterday – the trauma of that attack and the way it made her feel are shared with the audience who are visibly and emotionally moved by her story. I know that so many South African’s have experienced similar unmentionable traumas, yet we don’t talk about it in this way – and we need to. We need VICTIMS of crime to stand before our Parliamentarians and tell them how they feel, they need to make these members sit through their personal account of a rape or loss of a child due to murder, because each member or their loved one could be next, and they need to do something about this. The lobbyist groups, the NPA, Business Against Crime and SAHRC all make important submissions which make practical sense – but the VICTIMS are the one’s who I believe need to stand up and talk, because this is after all what we are trying to do here – bring their perpetrators to justice so that it does not happen again.

If you read about the work Debbie Smith and her husband Rob have done in the USA to get fundamental DNA laws passed, you will see that anything is possible through sheer tenacity and will. If you meet Debbie in person you will see that she is prepared to tap into her Government’s emotional side in order for them to understand that victims of trauma are not just a statistic, but are broken human beings who deserve, at the very least, to be heard by the very people who claim to protect them.

My request is that every victim who is willing to take a stand, must send in a submission to the Portfolio Committee, requesting to be heard at the next hearing, asking for a chance to tell their story, forcing them to hear why this DNA Bill is important – and why is it important? Because the Bill provides a framework and appropriate funding to administer our DNA Database which in turn helps to eliminate backlogs. And when backlogs get eliminated, we will find a lot of people were killed or raped who didn’t have to be – we will know who did it, when and how. Because the old cases solved later will show links to more recent cases, which cases, if had been solved earlier, would have meant that the later victims should not in fact have suffered the attack or in some cases, may still be alive to tell the tale, had the first case been solved timeously.

Vanessa Lynch with Chris Asplen

And this is a point which Chris Asplen also impressed upon the audience as well as the fact that a DNA Database is as much about exonerating the innocent as convicting the guilty. Chris made the point that 200 cases from the Innocence Project have proved the convicted offender to be not guilty of the crime for which that person had been incarcerated; and that is only in cold cases where DNA evidence had been left – the implications of this point are that the regular forms of investigating are not working because how many people have been imprisoned incorrectly using ‘traditional’ methods of investigation but have no DNA evidence to exonerate them… the thought is scary.

The use of a DNA database however can get it right the first time – and this is important from a suspect’s standpoint too – for instance, once someone is accused of rape, that person never really gets his reputation back but when DNA excludes him as a suspect, it totally exonerates that person.

Whilst DNA evidence may not be the silver bullet, Chris correctly points out that DNA evidence is the only form of evidence that is validated – unlike for instance eye witness evidence which is totally unreliable, DNA evidence either is or isn’t an exact match to a suspect.

Listening to Chris Asplen and Debbie Smith talk about the way in which the rest of the world approaches the expansion of their respective DNA Databases, shows that what our Parliamentarians really need is an education as to how effective this technology has proven to be worldwide, and that we are not reinventing the wheel in SA! The law which they are purporting to pass is not groundbreaking by any means – it is as standard internationally as fingerprint legislation, and for that reason they need to review it in that context. Our existing DNA Database requires urgent regulation and a framework for expansion, and there is absolutely no reason whatsoever why they should delay the implementation of this Bill to do just that. The fingerprint section of the Bill was processed fast and efficiently – let’s hope that they treat the DNA section in the same manner.

I am about to make my presentation, so I will sign off for today. But watch this space, as I am back in Parliament tomorrow, Tuesday and have been told that the Portfolio Committee have agreed to allow Chris Asplen to present to them on the benefits of passing DNA legislation in South Africa.

Until then, enjoy the rest of the long weekend.


3 Responses to “Day Two – DNA Conference”

  1. Extremely interesting blog post thanks for sharing I have added your website to my bookmarks and will be back 🙂 By the way this is a little off topic but I really like your web page layout.

  2. Loyiso Jiyana says:

    How do we as the general public contribute? This is overdue,we are raising children; we pray daily for safety of all our loved ones. I don’t think its necessary to have 1st hand experience to know what state our world is in, the media informs us minute by minute and I would love to be involved in whatever way shape or form. How do we assist with finance to the project?

    • Vanessa says:

      Hi Loyiso
      Thank you for your support. All donations are welcome thank you! The DNA Project is a registered s.21 Non Profit Company and PBO, which relies on the assistance of monetary donations from sponsors in order to assist it to achieve its stated objectives.

      Donors are able to help with monetary donations by either of the following methods :

      Via Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) or on-line banking:

      * Account name: The DNA Project
      * Bank: Investec Bank Limited
      * Branch name: 100 Grayston Drive, Sandton
      * Branch code: 580105
      * Current account number: 10011269973

      Via Direct Deposit:

      Should you need to deposit cash or cheques, this can be done at any ABSA branch, using the following bank account details:

      * Account name: Investec Bank
      * Account number: 01043960306
      * Reference number: 10011269973


      The DNA Project is an approved Section 18A Public Benefit Organisation (PBO No. 930 028 759) which means that we can issue a tax certificate for any donation of more than R100. If you do require a tax certificate for Income Tax purposes, please indicate it clearly on the fax or email your request to and we will ensure that your certificate is sent to you.