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The Rape Capital of the World

21 August 2014, 18:00

South Africa has been dubbed the “Rape Capital of the World”.  Obviously this title has been hard for some to swallow, like President Zuma and Africa Check but to name a couple.  Zuma denied this, giving no reason why we should not be called the rape capital, while Africa Check issued a disclaimer, saying it could not be confirmed or denied due to difficulties in comparisons caused by classification differences and underreporting of rape in general.  But whether we are the rape capital, or the 3rd worst (Forbes), or at best top 10 worst when it comes to rape, someone is being raped every second of every day in this country!

I personally embrace this title.  If the pain of a few thousand men, women, children and even animals being raped each day is not a big deal for the government, media and citizens, then maybe an attack on our pride might spark us into action.  Now while some of the figures I’d like to share might be old for some, I feel that it’s important and necessary to emphasise this catastrophe every single day. 

How many are raped each day?

According to SAPS crime stats, roughly 1.25 million sexual assaults have been reported between 1994 and now.  That’s roughly 170 per day.  The key word here is “reported”.

Interpol reported in 2012 that in South Africa, less than 1% of sexual assaults are reported.  A police report around that time stated that only 1 in 36 (2.8%) cases are reported.  A 2010 study by Gender Links and the Medical Research Council (MRC) found that in Gauteng, only one in 25 rapes had been reported to the police.  It seems that the latest consensus is that around 1 in 30 (3.3%) of sexual assaults are reported, hence the statement that “a woman is raped every 17 seconds in South Africa”.  What this roughly equates to is (rounded):

·         5,000 per day

·         35,000 per week

·         150,000 per month

·         1,800,000 per year

·         18,000,000 every decade

The role of government

While reported sexual offences has continued to increase year on year (up almost 40% from 1994), there has been a clear lack of urgency on the government’s part.

Sexual offences courts

Specialised sexual offences courts were introduced shortly after 1994 and showed considerable success, especially in obtaining convictions.  But since then it seems that most of these courts have disappeared.  Reasons for this, given by Minister Radebe last year, include:

·         a lack of a specific legal framework to establish these courts;

·         a lack of a dedicated budget;

·         poor visibility of these courts in remote areas;

·         restricted space capacity in courts;

·         a lack of training of court personnel; and

·         a lack of a monitoring and evaluation mechanism developed specifically for the management of these courts.

The re-establishment of these courts seems to have been far from a priority.  After the idea of reintroducing these courts was given attention in 2005, it’s been eight whole years (14,400,000 sexual offences later) of inaction.  Only last year did the reintroduction of these courts commence.

Sexual offences register

The sexual offences register is a joke compared to international standards.  But this time last year there were only 5,000 names on our register, which came into effect only in 2009.  In many international sex offences registers, the public has unlimited access to view this register, which includes names and pictures of perpetrators, where they live, where they work and what crimes they are convicted of.  Here, the sexual offences register is not accessible to the public.

Forensic labs

Then there is the state of government-run, forensic laboratories, which is critical in getting convictions for sexual offences.  A Carte Blanche expose described the situation as all but shambolic.  Last year the DA asked the Public Protector to investigate after reports of poor management, which jeopardised the criminal justice system and victims of crime, which includes a massive amount of victims of sexual assaults.  In December last year there was a backlog of over 52,000 post-mortem, toxicology and drunken driving samples awaiting processing at the Pretoria, Cape Town and Johannesburg labs.  In parliament is was revealed that the increase in backlogs was 322% from the previous year.  This means waiting years for results and a very high risk of botched or missing forensics.     

Given that an estimated 36,000,000 sexual offenses occurred during the past 20 years, what on earth has taken the government so long to take massive, unprecedented action, which includes a total overhaul of forensic labs, building more forensic labs and sexual offences courts, and the early establishment of a comprehensive, public-accessible sexual offences register?

The role of the media

While roughly 2,700,000 rapes took place in the last year and a half, it’s been all Oscar! Oscar! Oscar!  5,000 rapes in a single day were not even enough to qualify as a Newsmaker of the Year contender.  While I understand that 5,000 rapes in one day is not as sensational as many of the stories that make headlines, I feel that the media should do more than just a once a year feature on how bad the scourge of rape is. 

The role of the citizens 

In December 2012, millions took to the streets in India to protest sexual violence against women after the brutal gang rape of a young medical student in a moving bus.  While South Africa continues to have numerous cases like this, the only protest which comes close to that of the Indian march was the march against violence in Gaza, which took place several weeks ago which attracted a couple of hundred thousand marchers.

Are we really the rape capital of the world?

Looking at the sheer quantity of sexual offences, it’s hard to deny that we shouldn’t be dubbed this embarrassing title, but it can surely be challenged.  Then there is the quality of rape in South Africa.

·         Just about half of rape victims are children, mostly girls under the age of 19. 

·         Shamefully, South Africa is known for having one of the highest cases of “Infant rape” in the world.  It is understood that this atrocious scourge is driven by the “Virgin Cure” myth which is a belief that sex with a virgin girl cures HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.  Being the country with the highest HIV/AIDS population in the world and a poor level of education, it’s understandable how this myth can be so widely accepted. 

·         South Africa notoriously coined the term “Corrective Rape” in 2000, which is the rape of lesbians.

·         We have “Jackrolling” gangs in the townships that kidnap women and gang rape them. 

·         We play “Rape-Rape” games at schools in which rape is sometimes described as “fun”. 

·         Even “Dog Rape” is highly prevalent in townships and impoverished communities.

Yes, we have it all.  From a month old infant to the frail and elderly (80+), nobody is safe.  I’m not sure any country rivals our shameful résumé of rape culture.  Especially for our young women, who dare walk the streets after dark and who “are more likely to be raped than receive an education”, our Rainbow Nation must literally be like hell on earth.

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