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Has rape become a ‘national sport’ in South Africa?

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Naomi Wilcox
WVoN co-editor

With recent high profile cases involving gang-rape and serial rapists hitting the headlines, South African newspaper The Southern Times has asked whether rape has become a ‘national sport’ in South Africa?

Last month there was the horrific story of a 17-year-old girl with the mental age of five, who was gang-raped by seven men.

The crime was recorded on one of the men’s mobile phones and quickly spread throughout the community.  It provoked widespread outrage, even in a country where rape and sexual violence has become commonplace.

This story followed just days after the news that in just one day last month, the Johannesburg High Court heard 62 rape cases – shockingly committed by just nine men, including one father and son team.

South Africa holds the dubious distinction of having some of the worst rape statistics in the world. Indeed, some sources claim that women there are more likely to be raped than to learn how to read.

The most recent figures show more than 66,000 sexual offences are reported to the police annually. But as Tiny Moloko, a social worker at People Opposing Women Abuse (Powa) says, “Those numbers aren’t even a true reflection, as many rape victims don’t even come forward to tell their story.”

The Medical Research Council (MRA) estimate it could be as many as four times this number.

A survey carried out in 2010 revealed truly disturbing attitudes towards rape, with 37.4% of men freely admitting to have committed at least one rape. Nearly 7% said they had participated in a gang rape.

Appallingly, the survey also found that 32% of men and women agreed that “in any rape case, one would have to question whether the victim is promiscuous,” while 20.1% of men and 15.6% of women said that “in some rape cases, women want it to happen.”

Other news reports reflect the increasing occurrence of ‘corrective rape’ (in which lesbians are raped by men who believe it will change their sexual orientation), and very high incidences of child and baby rape, often fueled by the myth that sex with a virgin will cure a man of HIV or AIDS.

Clearly South Africa has a massive problem, and it is no wonder that in a letter to The Star, a South African newspaper, rape was described as ‘a national sport.

The causes of the problem are multi-faceted, from changes in the policing of crimes against women and girls, to deeply seated attitudes towards women and a culture of violence in which such crimes are tolerated.

Executive Director of the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre Lisa Vetten, says that the position of women has not improved despite South Africa’s post-apartheid laws.

“When  you have a society that’s been as unequal as ours along gender lines as well as race and class,” she said, “it takes a long time to change that.”

The National Congress Women’s League  (NCWL) called for South Africans to work together to address this endemic problem.

“South Africans need to come together as we did during the struggle for freedom and restore the morality in our society,”  Troy Martens, spokeswoman for the NCWL said in a press release.

“We need to find the cause of this scourge in our society and talk openly about the problem that clearly exists so we can root it out. Communities need to work with Government and police to identify out all criminal elements in our society.”

  1. vicki wharton says:

    Think this is a world wide problem with male culture – proving yourself a man has become synonymous with hating with women. Think internet porn has its part to play, which seems to have taken over from religion in instructing men that they are gender superior.

  2. The problem with SA is that it is being ran by people who condone this behaviour. SA is such a fantastic place and its culture is beautiful – but like most places it has its bad apples. How can you run a safe and stable country on democracy when half 1/2 of its voters are un-educated. so sad, but such an amazing place with great people!

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