To say that South Africa has a rape problem is insufficient. South Africa has a rape problem of gargantuan proportions, where woman are raped on live television, where a man will use as his defense for raping his granddaughters the excuse that he could no longer afford to pay prostitutes, where gangs of men engage in "corrective rape" of lesbians, where the highest incidence of reported rape in the world meets with one of the lowest conviction rates.
And now a study done by South Africa's Medical Research Council, in which a representative sample of 1,738 men in South Africa's Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces were interviewed, has found that a shocking one in four South African men admit to having raped, frequently more than once.
The study into rape and HIV, by the country's Medical Research Council (MRC), asked men to tap their answers into a Palm Pilot device to guarantee anonymity. The method appears to have produced some unusually frank responses.Professor Rachel Jewkes of the MRC, who led the research team, attributes the prevalence of rape in South Africa "to ideas about masculinity based on gender hierarchy and the sexual entitlement of men. It's rooted in an African ideal of manhood." Dean Peacock, co-director of the Sonke Gender Justice project, pointed to South Africa's current president, Jacob Zuma, who, before his election, was tried for rape but eventually acquitted, and is a polygamist and unapologetic misogynist: "We hear men saying, 'If Jacob Zuma can have many wives, I can have many girlfriends.' The hyper-masculine rhetoric of the Zuma campaign is going to set back our work in challenging the old model of masculinity."
…Of those surveyed, 28% said they had raped a woman or girl, and 3% said they had raped a man or boy. Almost half who said they had carried out a rape admitted they had done so more than once, with 73% saying they had carried out their first assault before the age of 20. … One in 20 men said they had raped a woman or girl in the last year.
There is also a persistent myth in South Africa (among other places on the continent) that having sex with a virgin will cure HIV, which may help contexualize this part of the study's findings:
The study, which had British funding, also found that men who are physically violent towards women are twice as likely to be HIV-positive. They are also more likely to pay for sex and to not use condoms.Sometimes it feels like there aren't enough teaspoons in the world.
Any woman raped by a man over the age of 25 has a one in four chance of her attacker being HIV-positive.
If you'd like to get involved, check out these organizations engaged in the fight for gender justice in South Africa: Womans Legal Centre, Women's Net, Athena Network. Please add your recommendations in comments.
UPDATE: Also see: One in Nine Campaign Aimed at Improving Rape Survivors' Access to Justice in South Africa.