Increase in women killed by multiple gunshots

Partipants of the Removing The Trigger launch this week at the Saartjie Baartman Centre. Picture: Genevieve Serra

Partipants of the Removing The Trigger launch this week at the Saartjie Baartman Centre. Picture: Genevieve Serra

Published Feb 17, 2024


Cape Town - Forensic pathology and statistics have proven that in the past four years intimate femicide murder by a firearm has decreased. While this is good news, experts say women are now commonly being killed during mass shootings and being shot multiple times.

This shocking fact emerged during the launch of Removing The Trigger held this week at the Saartjie Baartman Centre on Valentine’s Day. The launch aims to promote the rights and safety of victims concerning gun-related domestic violence.

Valentine’s Day was chosen after Reeva Steenkamp was shot and killed by her boyfriend, South African para-athlete Oscar Pistorius. Pistorius was released on parole earlier this year.

Victim and survivor Sakeena Daniels spoke of her trauma at the Removing The Trigger launch this week, which was held at the Saartjie Baartman Centre. Picture: Genevieve Serra

The last analysis of femicide prevalence data in South Africa found the rate of femicide to be five times the global average, with 11.2 femicides per 100 000 members of the female population.

Those at the launch focused on the lack of the removal of firearms during applications for protection orders, calling for the Domestic Violence Act provisions to be amended.

Seasoned forensic pathologist Dr Yolande van der Heyde took her audience on a journey in the aftermath of gun violence, which pathologists are faced with daily.

Van der Heyde showcased their records between 2020 and 2023 and said 15 979 cases were admitted to the morgue during that period.

Partipants of the Removing The Trigger launch this week at the Saartjie Baartman Centre. Picture: Genevieve Serra

She explained most femicide cases involved multiple gunshot wounds that occurred during mass shootings.

“In October last year, we saw a significant spike in the number of gun cases,” she said. “It meant we had to deal with five shooting cases a day, and each pathologist had one case a day.

“We had a young pathologist who resigned at the end of October. She left, she couldn’t do medical firearm-related cases; she couldn’t cope with doing it every day.

“In 2023, male victims outnumbered females 13 to one. A total of 258 cases were reviewed.

“The number of multiple murder victims and gunshot wounds ... We found most women who were killed by a firearm with a single gunshot wound were residential. Circumstances were unknown and suspects were unknown.

“But we saw an increase in victims who had multiple shootings and were shot in mass or multiple shootings where they were either shot during a crossfire, intervening in an argument or in extortion or hijacking.”

Dr Yolande van der Heyde is a forensic pathologist. Picture: Genevieve Serra

Van der Heyde said in the same period, there were only six intimate firearm cases. “In this period, there were 126 cases of multiple gunshot wound cases, which is 54.7%.”

She said the ages of women shot by an intimate partner ranged from 36 to 82 years old. In terms of numbers, 26 were shot in a situation where there was more than one victim.

“Firearms allow the gunman to kill rapidly and make multiple murders.”

When asked why there had been a spike in shootings in October, Van der Heyde said it could be that people had more access to firearms.

Gun Free South Africa’s director, Adele Kirsten, said the Medical Research Council (MRC) showed femicide by firearm had decreased.

“The 2017 MRC report, launched in 2022, said the good news was that intimate femicide rates had stabilised, which means the firearms control act is starting to work; if a male partner is negligent, the gun is removed.

“But the worrying trend is women are being killed more in public spaces, being shot multiple times and often in a group. We do not know why. Is it a hit? Is it a way that the partner shoots randomly at a range of people? We just do not know.

“But the key changes are an increase in the number of women being shot in non-intimate scenes, in public spaces, and being shot multiple times.”

National Shelter Movement of SA Co-ordinator Mariam Mangera said between 2012 and 2022, 10 000 police officers were arrested for domestic violence, sexual violence, assault, attempted murder and murder, and only fifty were suspended.

She explained the decrease in gun fire femicide was due to police officers and offenders realising that sentencing would be worse if a gun is involved.

“When we look at women in shelters, most commonly, the perpetrators are police officers,” she added.

“Often they threaten their victims with guns and resort to torturing, cutting or strangling their victims. They know that by doing this, they will have a lesser sentence than that of a firearm.”

Gun Free SA’s Director, Adele Kirsten. Picture: Genevieve Serra

Gun violence victim Sakeena Daniels, formerly of the Mitchell’s Plain Community Policing Forum, also attended the launch and said she was still left with the scars after she was shot by a male suspect in 2019.

“I have testified, and my daughter, and today it’s still very traumatising,” she said.

“I thank God I am a survivor. It has been six years, and I am only receiving counselling now.”

Police Oversight and Community Safety MEC Reagen Allen said firearms continued to be the weapon of choice for criminals to commit their heinous crimes.

“Innocent victims are losing their lives due to gun violence,” he said.

“In fact, in the second quarter, July to September 2023, crime statistics revealed that 634 or 55,1% incidents of all murders were committed by using a firearm.”

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