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Rape in South Africa

Swartz, S. (2000). "Coming Closer! Rape in South Africa. " S. Hamilton, MA: Center for Youth Studies.


South Africa is a male-dominant society. In rural communities especially, rape is a part of every day life. Sex is seen as a right and is freely taken. In many South African languages there is no word for "rape". It is such a usual occurrence that nobody bothered to call it something different from sex. But rape is not an act of sex. Rather, it is an act of violence-of the most horrific kind. Of course there is the possibility of an unwanted pregnancy, the terror of HIV infection, and also the enduring sense of violation-of feeling dirty, of being scarred through intimacy gone wrong.


  • It was reported that 50,841 women and children were raped in 2000.
  • Approximately 1 out of 35 rapes is reported to the police.
  • Official statistics report that someone is raped every 12 minutes.
  • In fact, under-reporting trends indicate that a woman or child is likely raped every 26 seconds in South Africa.
  • 1 million women and children are raped in South Africa annually.
  • 37% of all victims were under 18.
  • South Africa has the highest rape statistics in the world.
  • 53% of women who were raped knew their assailants.
  • Theoretically one in two South African women will be raped at least once in her lifetime.
  • South Africa also has the fastest growing rate of HIV/AIDS, with 1,800 new cases each day.
  • Government refuses to give rape victims free anti-AIDS drugs. Such treatment would cost 400 rands for 28 days-less than a single day in hospital.
  • In a few years, government will have to spend billions of rands caring for rape-infected HIV-positive women and children dying of HIV/AIDS in our hospitals.
  • Gauteng has the highest incidence of rape, followed by KwaZulu Natal and the Western Cape.
  • One third of reported sexual abuses against children are committed by teenagers.
  • Approximately 2% of adults have been sexually molested by a sibling during childhood.
  • The average age at which children begin sexually abusing others has dropped from 14 to 12.
  • The following stories (summarised form a daily South African newspaper) give some insight into the issues surrounding rape:

    David's mother knew something was wrong with her son when she caught him fondling a friend's one year-old daughter. It didn't stop there. Over the past two years, David forced the girl, who is now three, to touch him inappropriately several times, fondled another friend's four-year-old daughter and was caught molesting his baby sister. David is a 7 year-old whose mother fears her son is already a sex offender: " 'He needs professional help. I am worried sick that the next time he does something he could really hurt somebody or end up in trouble. If he doesn't get help now he could end up being a rapist.' " David is one of an increasing number of children who have sexually abused other children. Experts blame the rise in child sex offenders on neglect; physical, sexual and emotional abuse of the offending children; as well as television and magazines that promote sexual activity (Independent Newspapers, February 2000).

    Valencia is a 14 year-old girl from Eerste River who was brutally raped and stabbed 42 times before her assailants cut her throat and left her for dead. She succumbed to her injuries and died 12 hours later. Witnesses said Valencia started the evening at a local disco with a friend and decided to end it at a shebeen three streets away from where she lived. At the same time, the gang known as the Naughty Boys were spending the evening drifting from one shebeen to the next. Soon after arriving at the shebeen where Valencia was, one of the Naughty Boys approached Valencia. At first he played the perfect gentleman with the young girl, even offering her his jacket when she said she felt cold. But when she wanted to leave he would not let her. He led her across a small open stretch of field and on the way asked one of the neighbours if the house down the road was vacant. After at least four men raped Valencia, one of the gang members returned to the shebeen where they had found their prey and bragged about the rape. In Eerste River, most people to whom the Cape Argus spoke did not seem to find it strange that a 14 year-old should have been frequenting a shebeen (Independent Newspapers, March 2000).


    1. How do these statistics compare to your experience of rape in your community?
    2. Regarding David's story, at what stage do curiosity and experimentation cross the line into unhealthy sexual behaviour?
    3. What could parents, the community, teachers, Valencia's friends have done to help prevent Valencia's rape and death?


    1. Youth workers should focus on teaching and modelling respect for the opposite gender.
    2. Because of the wide extent of rape among children and the severe limitation of professional resources to help victims of rape, children need to be helped to deal with the trauma of rape in order to move on emotionally and psychologically. The basic messages children need to hear include: people aren't perfect; hurt can be healed; and children are not to blame.
    3. Forgiveness is not a popular message for rape victims, but the alternatives-recrimination and revenge-are too horrific to contemplate.
    4. Young people need to be helped to make choices about recreation time and how to say "no" to unwelcome advances.
    5. Programmes aimed at reducing rape should not only target delinquents, but also every child and young person in township and suburban schools. Why? Because rape is actually a common occurrence. It's no longer on the edge of our society.

Sharlene Swartz cCYS