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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Female homicidal strangulation in urban South Africa

Shahnaaz Suffla*, Ashley Van Niekerk and Najuwa Arendse

Author Affiliations

MRC-UNISA Crime, Violence and Injury Lead Programme, P.O. Box 19070, Tygerberg, 7505, South Africa

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BMC Public Health 2008, 8:363  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-8-363

Published: 21 October 2008

Abstract

Background

Female strangulation in South Africa occurs in a context of pervasive and often extreme violence perpetrated against women, and therefore represents a major public health, social and human rights concern. South African studies that provide accurate descriptions of the occurrence of strangulation incidents among female homicide victims are limited. The current study describes the extent, distribution and patterns of homicidal strangulation of women in the four largest South African metropolitan centres, Tshwane/Pretoria, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Ethekwini/Durban.

Methods

The study is a register-based cross sectional investigation of female homicidal strangulation, as reported in the National Injury Mortality Surveillance System for the four cities, for the period 2001 to 2005. Crude, unadjusted female strangulation rates for age and population group, and proportions of strangulation across specific circumstances of occurrence were compiled for each year and aggregated in some cases.

Results

This study reports that female homicidal strangulation in urban South Africa ranges from 1.71/100 000 to 0.70/100 000. Rates have generally declined in all the cities, except Cape Town. The highest rates were reported in the over 60 and the 20 to 39 year old populations, and amongst women of mixed descent. Most strangulations occurred from the early morning hours and across typical working hours in Johannesburg and Durban, and to a lesser extent in Cape Town. Occurrences across Johannesburg, Durban and Pretoria were distributed across the days of the week; an exception was Cape Town, which reported the highest rates over the weekend. Cape Town also reported distinctly high blood alcohol content levels of strangulation victims. The seasonal variation in strangulation deaths suggested a pattern of occurrence generally spanning the period from end-winter to summer. Across cities, the predominant crime scene was linked to the domestic context, suggesting that perpetration was by an intimate partner or acquaintance.

Conclusion

The study contributes to an emerging gendered homicide risk profile for a country with one of the highest homicide rates in the world. The results support the call for the development of evidence-based and gender-specific initiatives to especially address the forms of violence that instigate fatalities.