Original Research

Characteristics of persons accused of intimate partner homicide amongst forensic psychiatric observations

Sonali N. Valabdass, Ugasvaree Subramaney, Amanda Edge
South African Journal of Psychiatry | Vol 27 | a1675 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajpsychiatry.v27i0.1675 | © 2021 Sonali N. Valabdass, Ugasvaree Subramaney, Amanda Edge | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 06 January 2021 | Published: 31 May 2021

About the author(s)

Sonali N. Valabdass, Department of Psychiatry, School of Clinical Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Ugasvaree Subramaney, Department of Psychiatry, School of Clinical Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Amanda Edge, Department of Psychiatry, School of Clinical Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa


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Abstract

Background: Intimate partner homicide (IPH) is a global public health problem. One study conducted over 66 countries found that 13.5% of all homicides and 38.6% of female homicides were committed by an intimate partner. In South Africa, there were no published studies that examine alleged perpetrators of IPH that were referred for forensic psychiatric observation.

Aim: To describe the profile of accused persons referred for forensic psychiatric observation for a charge of murder or attempted murder of their intimate partners. Certain characteristics were further examined according to the psychiatric observation outcomes.

Setting: The study was conducted at Sterkfontein Hospital, a forensic psychiatric hospital in Gauteng, South Africa.

Methods: A retrospective record review of accused persons referred for forensic psychiatric observation for a charge of murder or attempted murder of their intimate partners was conducted. The period of the review was 19 years. The definition of intimate partners included current or former spouses and partners, same-sex partners and rejected suitors.

Results: One hundred and sixty-three files, which included forensic psychiatric reports, were reviewed. The findings related to the profile of accused persons and offence characteristics indicated that: (1) history of violent behaviour is prevalent; (2) homicides mostly occur in private homes; (3) knives and firearms are most often used; (4) infidelity, separation and jealousy are common motives; (5) psychotic disorders, personality disorders and substance use disorders feature prominently. A total of 88% of the sample were found fit to stand trial and 82% were found criminally responsible. Factors significantly associated with being found fit to stand trial and criminally responsible following the forensic psychiatric observation were: male gender, having received a tertiary education, employment prior to the offence, earning a salary of more than R10 000, having no previous psychiatric or medical illness, a positive forensic history, previous intimate partner violence (IPV) perpetration, indicating a motive for the homicide, having no psychiatric illness at the time of the offence which would impact fitness to stand trial and criminal responsibility.

Factors significantly associated with being found not fit to stand trial and not criminally responsible following the forensic psychiatric observation were: female gender, having received a primary education, unemployment prior to the offence, having a previous psychiatric or medical illness, no forensic history, no previous IPV perpetration, not indicating a motive for the homicide, having a psychiatric illness at the time of the offence which would impact fitness to stand trial and criminal responsibility.

Conclusion: The characteristics highlighted in this study can contribute to the development of risk assessment tools which can be used to identify likely perpetrators of IPH. Other interventions, for example controlling access to knives and firearms, reducing substance abuse and improving mental health services, are also important in the prevention of IPH.


Keywords

IPV; IPH; IPH characteristics; IPH perpetrators; IPH perpetrator characteristics; forensic psychiatric observation; IPH risk factors

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