Rape: starting young

The majority of men who rape do so for the first time during adolescence, the average age of first offence being 17 years.

This is one of the findings presented by Dr Gary Barker, Promundo, during a plenary session on the prevention of sexual abuse at the Sexual Violence Research Initiative (SRI) forum which is held in Cape Town this week.

According to Barker, intervention programmes therefore should be aimed at boys and young men. In most poverty-stricken societies young boys have more than 41 hours per week to hang out in groups/gangs to exchange their own ideas of masculinity and ignore the meaning of consent (that “no” means “no”).

What causes men to rape

Speakers at the plenary which included Prof Rachel Jewkes and Lizle Loots from the Medical Research Council (MRC), Dr Laura McCloskey, University of Illinois, and Wendy Knerr-Wolfson from the University of Oxford, highlighted the following risk/vulnerability factors:

  • sexual abuse in the family
  • poverty
  • drugs and alcohol
  • gang membership
  • witnessing inter-partner violence in the home
  • insecure attachment and neglect
  • psychological distress
  • less community connectedness

What needs to be done

Speakers called for steps to prevent childhood trauma and to strengthen family environments, including support for gender-based violence prevention and positive parenting. More activities should also be made available for teenagers.

Barker, who evaluated 34 rape perpetration prevention interventions, said that there is evidence that changing attitudes don’t necessarily change behaviour. The most effective and promising programmes were those which included the following:

  • focus on changing underlying gender norms
  • multiple sessions rather than once-off sessions
  • a non-confrontational and non-accusatory stance with boys and young men
  • well-trained facilitators with knowledge and some linkages with the participants
  • involvement of parents in school-based interventions

Bystander attitudes towards rape are often just as vengeful as the perpetrators’ actions. Intervention programmes should encourage action by bystanders in such settings and through education bring clarity around the meaning of consent.

(Compiled by Ilse Pauw, Health24, October 2011)

Learn more

Sexual Violence Research Initiative

For more information about the conference, contact Lizle Loots at

What to do if you've been raped


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