The incorporation of a commuter serial rapist profile in a geographic profile
: potential and pitfalls

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


South Africa has been dubbed the “rape capital of the world” by Interpol, and this view is widely accepted. However, it is very difficult to say that this statement is definitively true. Rape organisations estimate that in South Africa, between 5 and 10 per cent of rape cases are reported and that less than 10 per cent of cases reported lead to convictions. Conservative estimates state that over 650 000 sexual offences occur each year in SA, but other estimates put this figure at just over 1 300 000 per year. In South Africa, the prevalence of rape and, particularly, multiple perpetrator rape is unusually high. The proportions of adult men who have raped is between 28 and 30 per cent, and 7 to 9 per cent have engaged in multiple perpetrator rape. As the majority of sexual assaults remain unreported in SA, rape statistics show a lower rate of molestations as many women choose not to press charges.
Traditional thinking within the domain of criminology ascertains that a commuter serial rapist cannot be accurately incorporated into a geographic profile, and any attempts to do so will yield inaccurate results. Furthermore, orthodox reasoning and approaches categorically state that it is impossible to identify commuter (as opposed to marauder) serial rapist morphology in the midst of current investigation. Prominent methodologies underpinning geographic profiling have an inward-focusing approach – that is, they have an ability to determine an offender’s anchor point from the crime sites inward. This methodology enables relatively accurate profiling of a marauder, as this offender commits crimes inside a range circled around his or her anchor point. In contrast, a commuter commits crimes outward from his or her anchor point – that is, the anchor point lies outside of the crime sites. In this regard, current approaches and methodologies do not facilitate geographic profiling of a commuter.
This study explores the effectiveness of geographic profiling techniques and methodologies as a tool to profile commuter serial rapists. The research deals specifically with South African commuter serial rapists and ascertains the potential and pitfalls with regard to incorporating a commuter serial rapist profile in a geographic profile. Geographic profiling incorporates specific criminological theories to promote its effectiveness. These theories are exposed, scrutinised and examined in this research with a view to establishing correlation and alignment (or lack thereof) with the sample of South African offenders
The most relevant approach, that of mixed methods research, is used to derive maximum meaning from case files (quantitative data) and interviews (qualitative data). South African Police Services (SAPS) case files of solved serial rape cases are combined with incarcerated offenders and related investigating officer interviews to ensure the integrity of all data and information. Case file and incarcerated offender selection developed in accordance with specific criteria meeting the conditions associated with a commuter serial rapist such as: the offender’s anchor point (or home base) is distant from, and outside of, the cluster of crime sites (the convex hulls); five or more victims are associated with the offender; travel distance to crime sites is relatively far; crime sites are clustered into identifiable convex hulls; and the offender has a fixed anchor point during his or her crime spree.
A scrutinisation of all gathered data, from both qualitative and quantitative sources, transpired in order to determine potential fit with current criminological theory. The data was subjected to further interrogation with the intention of gaining greater insight into commuter serial rapist behaviour so as to confidently propose new and progressive theories. These theories which, amongst others, include journey to crime, routine activity, awareness and activity space, distance decay, buffer zones, least effort principle, circle of environmental range, crime pattern, and rational choice will serve to illuminate the value of geographic profiling within the criminological remit.
Findings from this research suggest that there is a high correlation between South African commuter serial rapists and the criminological theories that focus on the way offenders engage (crime pattern theory, routine activity theory, and awareness and activity space) and the manner in which they think (rational choice theory). In a similar vein, findings highlight the low correlation with theories that underlie the manner in which an offender moves (journey to crime theory, distance decay, buffer zones, the least effort principle, and the circle of environmental range). Contrary to popular traditional thinking, the outcome of this research solidifies an optimistic position to successfully incorporate a commuter serial rapist in a geographic profile. Furthermore, evidence obtained provides a strong platform to accurately profile, on a balance of probabilities, a commuter serial rapist while an investigation is current.
It is recommended that evidence and positions postulated are further tried and tested, approaching the geographic profile of a commuter serial rapist with fresh lenses populated by the proposals set forth in this study.
It is the first time that research of this nature has been conducted in South Africa, and the researcher concludes with the expectation that this study will contribute significantly both to the field of geographic profiling in post-modern criminology and, ultimately, to the techniques adopted by investigating officers in their everyday challenge in apprehending commuter serial rapists
Date of Award2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of South Africa
SupervisorFriedo Herbig (Supervisor)


  • geographic profiling
  • serial rape
  • commuter
  • marauder
  • sexual offence

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