Naeemah Abrahams and colleagues compare the incidence of female homicide in women aged over 14 years in South Africa in 1999 and 2009 and analyze the fatal violent attacks perpetrated by intimate partners.
Death is the most extreme consequence of intimate partner violence. Female homicide studies with data on the perpetrator–victim relationship can provide insights. We compare the results of two South African national studies of female homicide with similar sampling done 10 y apart.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a retrospective national survey using a weighted cluster design of a proportionate random sample of 38 mortuaries to identify homicides committed in 2009. We abstracted victim data from mortuary and autopsy reports, and perpetrator data from police interviews. We compared homicides of women 14 y and older in 2009 with previously published data collected with the same methodology for homicides committed in 1999.
The study found that the rate of female homicide per 100,000 female population in 2009 was 12.9 (95% confidence interval [CI]: 9.3, 16.5), compared to 24.7 (95% CI: 17.7, 31.6) in 1999. The incidence rate ratio of 0.54 (95% CI: 0.20, 0.84) reflects a significantly lower rate in 2009. The rate of intimate partner femicide was 5.6/100,000 in 2009 versus 8.8/100,000 in 1999, with an incidence rate ratio of 0.63 (95% CI: 0.24, 1.02), indicating no difference between rates. Logistic regression analysis of homicide characteristics showed that the odds ratio of suspected rape among non-intimate femicides in 2009 compared to 1999 was 2.61 (95% CI: 1.23, 4.08) and among intimate partner femicides it was 0.84 (95% CI: 0.50, 1.42). The OR of homicide by gunshot was 0.54 (95% CI: 0.30, 0.99) in 2009 versus 1999. There was a significant drop in convictions of perpetrators of non-intimate femicide in 2009 versus 1999 (OR = 0.32 [95% CI: 0.19, 0.53]). Limitations of the study include the relatively small sample size and having only two time points.
Female homicide in South Africa was lower in 2009 than 1999, but intimate partner femicide and suspected rape homicide rates were not statistically different. The cause of the difference is unknown. The findings suggest that South Africa needs greater efforts nationally to implement evidence-based violence prevention.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Violence against women (often referred to as gender-based violence) is common, serious, and takes many forms, including physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, and has profound implications for every aspect of women's lives. One of the most common forms of violence is perpetrated by a husband or male partner (often referred to as intimate partner violence), and as it usually happens in private, is often ignored or goes unreported. According to the World Health Organization, population surveys indicate that 10%–69% of women have been abused by an intimate partner. This form of violence is so prevalent because in many countries and cultures, violence against a female partner is often not perceived as a crime but rather as a private family matter.
Why Was This Study Done?
The extreme consequence of violence against women is death, and given the seriousness of the widespread problem of violence against women, there have been many international and national efforts to raise awareness of the issue and to implement policies to reduce such violence. In order for these policies to be most effective, countries implementing strategies to prevent intimate partner violence should also have the capacity to monitor the results of such strategies, but unfortunately, these data are not routinely available. Tracking changes in fatal intimate partner violence (that is, when a woman is killed by an intimate partner, also referred to as intimate femicide) is one possible option of monitoring the impact of policies and programs. So in this study from South Africa, the researchers collected data on and compared the prevalence of intimate femicide at two time points ten years apart (1999 and 2009, between which time points new legislation on gender-based violence was introduced) to examine whether there were any differences.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers analyzed information on female homicide victims, aged 14 years and older, whom they identified from mortuary registers and databases in 2009. The researchers collected cause of death data from the autopsy reports and checked other information via police interview. The researchers then compared these results with a similar study they had conducted for homicides in 1999 but treated each study independently, with a separate statistical analysis, and calculated rates according to the population estimates at each time point.
Using these methods, the researchers found that in 2009, there were 930 female homicides compared to 1,052 in 1999, giving an overall female homicide rate per 100,000 women of 12.9 in 2009 compared to 24.7 in 1999. There was a statistically significant decrease in the rate of non-intimate femicide, with a rate of 8.6 per 100,000 women in 1999 compared to 4.2 in 2009. Although there was some evidence of a decrease in the rate of intimate partner femicide—8.8 per 100,000 women in 1999 compared to 5.6 in 2009—this decrease was not statistically significant. The researchers also found that there was a significant decrease in the rate of fatal shootings (female gun homicides), 7.5 per 100,000 women in 1999 compared to 2.5 in 2009, and that this finding was similar for homicides perpetrated by partners and non-partners (intimate and non-intimate gun homicides). Finally, the researchers found that the overall rate of fatal rapes (female rape homicides) was 3.4 per 100,000 women in 1999 compared to 2.5 in 2009, but again, this difference was not statistically significant. Unfortunately, the researchers found that the odds (chance) of conviction of perpetrators of intimate femicide was unchanged between the two time points (1.11), and the odds of conviction of perpetrators of non-intimate femicides had significantly decreased (0.32).
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that, overall, female homicide in South Africa was substantially lower in 2009 than in 1999, but the 2009 figure is still five times the global rate of this crime. The rate of non-intimate femicide declined significantly over the two time points, but there was no statistically significant reduction in intimate femicide. There was a substantial difference in the rate of homicide from gunshot between the two years, most likely explained by gun control legislation. This study has several limitations, including the small number of mortuaries included and the differences in the studies conducted in 1999 and 2009. Nevertheless, this study indicates that a renewed commitment from the South African government is urgently needed to develop policy-driven prevention interventions to reduce female homicide, especially when perpetrated by an intimate partner.
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001412.
Violence against Women Online Resources provide lists of sources about violence against women
The World Health Organization website lists some facts about violence against women
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more information about intimate partner violence
Sexual Violence Research Initiative provides links to research on sexual violence