By Dominique Roberts, Safeworld Student Writer
"She is your wife, but she only wants to sleep with you only once a week…we men cannot live like that... you will end up raping your own child...”
Male participant in a recent study by Soul City.
In April 2012, the world was shocked by a piece of news from South Africa.
A 17 year-old was gang raped by seven men, who were between 14-20 years old. What shocked the world even more was the fact that the whole event had been recorded on a cell phone. The 10 minute video showed the men repeatedly raping her while she cried and pleaded them to stop, but deaf to her distress, they encouraged each other and were seen offering her R2 (the equivalent of 15 pence or 24 cents in US dollars).
This was not an isolated case by far, but due to the viral spread of the rape video, the world was forced to take note of not only the severe problem rape poses, but also the mindset with which rape is viewed within South Africa.
South Africa is infamously known as the 'rape capital of the world', with one rape occurring every 17-34 seconds, totalling an average of 3,776 rapes per day.
This statistic excludes child/baby rapes.
It is not surprising then that, within South Africa, a woman has a greater chance of being raped than of learning how to read.
Research by the Community of Information, Empowerment and Transparency (CIET) found that one woman in three, living in South Africa, will be raped at least once within her life time. Unfortunately, though, the real statistic is estimated by POWA (People Opposed to Women Abuse) to be higher still, because they state that this number only accounts for 2.8% of the rapes that occur within South Africa. If this is an accurate indication, it would mean that over a million rapes take place within South Africa in one year.
According to the SAPD (South African Police Department), only one out of 36 of these rapes are reported and of these, only 15% result in any form of conviction. Many factors contribute to this low rate of reporting rape. Within any society, there is a level of stigma attached to rape; most survivors blame themselves for their rape at one point after the attack. This is often added to and by the direct or indirect cases of victim-blaming that takes place within society, stating that the survivor asked for it due to clothing, mannerisms or location they were at. Survivors are more likely to keep their rape to themselves so as not to risk being blamed, or seen as “damaged” by society.
Within South Africa, reporting a rape is often connected with insensitivity and ignorance. Police attitudes are often described as “indifferent”, and often the process of laying a charge creates secondary trauma for the rape survivor. Many survivors stated that they felt as if they were the offender, due to many of the insensitive questions that form part of some reporting processes, and an example of this is, “where you just wearing that?” Widespread reports have also been made detailing that the corruption within the SAPD leads to mistrust in the services offered by this facility.
A study conducted by the University of Rhodes found that multiple participants believed that in many cases, the police colluded with rapists. Some participants claimed that within the certain parts of South Africa, a bribe of R1000 (approximately ₤74 or $120) could be presented to police officers in order to have a rape docket “lost”.
Inefficiency also plays a large role in women not wanting to report rapes. The Centre for Peace Action found that 55% of women within certain areas of South Africa wait for up to three hours to be examined by a district surgeon after their rape. In 11 percent of the cases investigated, women waited over seven hours. Waiting for such a long period not only adds to the trauma of the event, but also creates reluctance felt by the survivor in wanting to continue to cooperate with the proceedings of the case.
Within the court process this is no better. Survivors not only have to relive their experience but are then subjected to harrowing cross-examination that is described by survivors as not only as traumatizing, but also as immensely humiliating.
Many survivors feel the gruelling process is not worth going through just to have the perpetrator be acquitted, or receive a sentence lighter than that of someone charged for hijacking. The leniency with which rape cases are dealt with often gives both the survivor, as well as offenders the idea that rape is not a serious crime.
This creates the idea that women are to be blamed for being raped. This mindset encourages not only victim blaming, but also allows rape to be seen as more acceptable as rapists are not forced to take accountability for their crimes. A recent study by Soul City revealed that most often people believe that women are raped due to something they did. The male participants were asked why rapes take place, the answers show why South Africa has such a large rape problem:
“A woman in a public place is public property. Anyone can sleep with her.”
“There’s this thing called imizwa (feelings). It happens that one can’t control his feelings with the way that girls dress these days…”
“I want to follow up on the issue of the family man who rapes his own child.
"The problem is these women. She is your wife but she only wants to sleep with you only once a week…we men cannot live like that…we have urges...you will end up raping your own child. These women really get us into trouble,” said another man.
When asked if the same applies to rape cases of old women who are 80 years, one participant put it succinctly:
“It’s like you see a young girl in a mini skirt. You want to have her, but you don’t get the chance. Then you turn around the corner and see an old lady, then you just shove it in there.”
The same group of men were asked what should be taught in order to decrease the rape statistics, answers often centred around ideas such as teaching women to “behave properly”, “dress appropriately” and some participants even went so far to suggest that women should have some form of curfew, “women should not be seen around after 19:00”. This study highlights only some of the misconceptions that are held towards gender, sexuality and rape.
The perception of women in South Africa is based on a traditional patriarchal society. Women are often viewed as having little power and say, even within their own lives. Women often feel that it is their duty to provide men with sex, as it is commonly believed that love equals sex. This is one of the most common answers given by teenage girls as being the reason why they allowed their boyfriends to have sex with them, “He said if I loved him I’d have sex with him”.
Statistics show that 28-30 percent of teenagers’ first sexual encounter was against their will, and due to the fact that they believed it was their duty or ideas of what a relationship and love meant. This idea of relationships with men being merely equated with sex is confirmed by the answers given by teenage men: “Women who are not ready to have sex cannot have male friends or any form of relationships with males.”
Cultural aspects also play a large role in the ideas held about rape within certain groups of South Africa. Many participants within the Soul City study stated that it is culturally incorrect for a woman to initiate a sexual relationship with a man. It is the role of the man to do this. A "good woman” should then not give in to men easily or else she may be seen as “cheap”, it is the duty of a woman to resist a bit before giving in to men.
These cultural aspects account for women having a hard time in declining intercourse, as it is seen as a woman’s duty. If in fact a woman does decline having sex, she is often believed as having an affair with another man, and in many cases become known as “easy”.
This creates a problem with the meaning of the word “NO”, and women's right to say no. Resistance is not part of the submissive gender role women are encouraged to take, and yet it is believed that a woman should show some resistance in order to prove that she is not “cheap”.
When asked how men determine if a woman is playing along with the norm of resisting in order not to be labelled as “cheap”, and when she in fact not wanting sex, they stated that a women’s body language can tell this. The men stated that women who do not want to have sex should kick, scream, and fight the male off, in order to show she is serious in not wanting to have sex. Yet, in 56 percent of rape cases, a weapon is used, and women are not likely to fight when threatened with a weapon.
One can ask the question as to why South Africa has such a high incidence of rape.
There have been some answers that have been proposed. The “culture of violence” is a culture that has dominated South Africa for many years. Analysts have suggested that the apartheid and political struggle that formed part of South Africa’s past contribute to the high level of crime. The sense of struggle left many males feeling a lack of power, through leading to them feeling emasculated. Rape survivors are often seen as “weaker” members of society, the women and children, and it has been suggested that rape may be an attempt to reassert power and masculinity.
Rape myths play a large role in the high incidence of rape. 'Corrective rape' is when a lesbian woman is raped in order to “make her heterosexual”. Men have stated that “fixing” these lesbian women is part of their duty as men within their community.
Virgin rape is another such myth; this is when a virgin is raped in the belief that HIV/AIDS is cured through this rape. It is often believed that the younger the virgin, the “stronger” the cure, and this is suggested as being a contributing factor to South Africa’s high child and baby rape statistic.
More than 67,000 cases of rape against children are reported each year, but law enforcement states that this number is nowhere near accurate. They estimate that the true number is about ten times this. A third of these rapes are committed against babies and children, between the ages of a few weeks and 10 years.
These are only two of the most common myths that encourage or 'justify' rape.
Rape, though, always seems to come down to the fact that there is a lack of respect for the victim. No matter what the cultural or societal norms, communities throughout South Africa know that rape is wrong, as well as being a criminal offence. The Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (SCVR), through their experiences of working with rape offenders, reports that many cases of rape are due to men feeling a sense of entitlement.
One offender who raped his 6 year old daughter said, “I felt like sex and, since my wife was at a night vigil, I was entitled to my daughter.”
One thing is clear from all of this research, if the mindset within South Africa is not drastically changed, the rate of rapes within the country will simply continue to increase.
Dominique Roberts is a Safeworld Student Writer. She is studying Psychology in South Africa and plans to specialise in Child Psychology.
"I was born and have lived in South Africa my entire life. Despite the many challenges we as a country face, my heart definitely lies in Africa...
I plan to specialize in Child Psychiatry. My love for children has been intensified by volunteering at a pre-school situated in a disadvantaged farming community...
Another ambition in my life is to help women... The social injustices and abuse they suffer have become “real” to me through getting to know many incredible women who have had firsthand experience with this type of abuse. I have seen the impact it has had on their lives, and want to stop gender based injustice for good."