Original Research

The gendered context of women charged with violent offences in the forensic psychiatric setting

Mohammed Nagdee, Lillian Artz, Ugasvaree Subramaney, Charles Young, Amanda Pieterse, Julia Pettitt
South African Journal of Psychiatry | Vol 30 | a2222 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajpsychiatry.v30i0.2222 | © 2024 Mohammed Nagdee, Lillian Artz, Ugasvaree Subramaney, Charles Young, Amanda Pieterse, Julia Pettitt | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 05 November 2023 | Published: 30 March 2024

About the author(s)

Mohammed Nagdee, Department of Psychological Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
Lillian Artz, Gender, Health and Justice Research Unit, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
Ugasvaree Subramaney, Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Charles Young, School of Psychology, College of Health and Education, Murdoch University, Perth, Australia
Amanda Pieterse, Department of Psychological Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
Julia Pettitt, Department of Psychological Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand

Abstract

Background: Women charged with violent offences may be referred by courts for forensic psychiatric assessment to determine whether mental disorder or intellectual disability impacts their fitness to stand trial and/or criminal responsibility. The profile of these women is a poorly researched area in South Africa.

Aim: This study examined the socio-demographic, offence-related, and clinical profile of South African women charged with violent offences referred for forensic assessment.

Setting: Fort England Hospital (FEH), a forensic psychiatric institution in the Eastern Cape.

Methods: The clinical records of 173 women referred by courts for forensic psychiatric evaluation over a 24-year period (1993–2017) to FEH were systematically reviewed.

Results: Most women were single, black mothers with dependent children, who were unemployed and socio-economically impoverished. Many had backgrounds of pre-offence mental illness, alcohol use and alleged abuse. The majority were first-time offenders whose victims were known to them. Most child victims were biological children killed by their mothers. Likely primary motives for violence were related to psychopathology in half of cases, and interpersonal conflict in a third. Forensic assessment most frequently confirmed psychotic disorders and dual diagnoses. Half the cases were fit to stand trial and under half were criminally responsible.

Conclusion: Violent female offending occurs within a gendered context, with high rates of prior trauma, alcohol use and psychosocial distress in perpetrators. An emphasis on gender-sensitive psychosocial interventions is required.

Contribution: This study highlights the nature and context of violent offending by women referred for forensic psychiatric assessment in South Africa.


Keywords

female offenders; women offenders; violent offenders; forensic; mental health; South Africa

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 5: Gender equality

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