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A 10-year review of fatal community assault cases at a regional forensic pathology facility in Cape Town, South Africa

CJ Herbst
M Tiemensma
SA Wadee


Background. An increase in autopsied community assault (CA) fatalities was observed at the Tygerberg Forensic Pathology Services (FPS), Cape Town, South Africa (SA). There is a paucity of information on the incidence and prevalence of these cases in SA.
Objectives. To determine the patterns and trends of injuries sustained in so-called CA fatalities.
Methods. A retrospective and descriptive study was conducted. Fatal CA cases admitted to the Tygerberg FPS over the 10-year period 1 January 2003 - 31 December 2012 were reviewed. Data were collected from autopsy/postmortem reports, contemporaneous notes, attached hospital records, the South African Police Services (SAPS) 180 form (completed by the SAPS representative) and other FPS documentation.
Results. A total of 424 cases of fatal CA were seen during the study period, with an annual increase between 2003 and 2007 and a second peak in 2012. The cause of death in most cases was multiple injuries (42.0%), with blunt-force trauma being the basis of most injuries sustained. The area with the greatest burden of injury was the township of Mfuleni (73 CA deaths per 100 000 population). There was a predominance of males, with only one female fatality recorded.
Conclusion. Adequate policing in prevalent areas is essential to address unnecessary loss of life and the burden imposed by these cases on the criminal justice system and healthcare services.

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eISSN: 2078-5135
print ISSN: 0256-9574