Cape Town – One in every three young South Africans has experienced some form of sexual abuse in their lives, according to a study released on Thursday.
“This means that a total of 784 967 young people have been exposed to sexual abuse by 17,” said associate professor Lillian Artz, director of the gender, health and justice research unit at the University of Cape Town (UCT).
Addressing a briefing in Cape Town, she said this number was almost the population of Port Elizabeth and twice that of Bloemfontein.
It was equivalent to filling Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg eight times and the Cape Town stadium 14 times over.
This rate, reported by 15 to 17-year-olds during interviews at school, was higher than that found during interviews at home.
The mean age at which girls were first subjected to sexual abuse was 14, and 15 for boys.
Boys and girls were found to be equally vulnerable to some form of sexual abuse in their lives, although these forms differed by gender.
Western Cape social development MEC Albert Fritz, who received a copy of the report, said the data was “shocking and frightening”.
The “Optimus Study: Sexual Victimisation of Children in South Africa” was commissioned by the UBS Optimus Foundation and conducted by researchers from the UCT and the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention.
Christina Nomdo, executive director of Resources Aimed at the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (Rapcan), felt the details were “scary”.
“It is horrific. It is terrible that our children have these life experiences that are normal for them,” she said to nods.
She, and many others in the room, praised the country for now having rigorous, scientific data to work with.
“Now we know the scale of the problem. But we are not going to be overwhelmed. We are going to be doing what we have been doing all the time. We are going to work together to try and make a difference.”
She rallied all those in the sector to fight for more money for child abuse prevention.
Fritz agreed that government needed to change its thinking. He said the state had to foster meaningful relationships with NGOs.