Rape in South Africa

Edited/Distributed by HURINet - The Human Rights Information Network


## author : ancdip@wn.APC.ORG

## date : 18.01.97










In crime-ridden South Africa, rape usually trails behind

murder and robbery in the public perception of crime, but a

string of gruesome cases has catapulted it into the national



In one case in Johannesburg early in the new year, two

sisters aged 21 and 24 were repeatedly raped by an armed

gang of four men after the rest of the family was tied up.


A few days later in another Johannesburg suburb, two

cousins, aged 13 and 15, were raped under similar



Since the brutal attack the two teenagers have been too

scared to sleep. They have not left one another's side and

the elder girl refuses to go alone to the bathroom, the

scene of her terrifying gang rape.


South Africa has the highest reported rate of rapes in the

world, the United Nations rapporteur for violence against

women, Radhika Coomaraswamy, said on a recent visit to the



Police figures for 1996 show that a woman, girl or child was

reported raped every 14 minutes on average in South Africa.


Some non-governmental organizations speak of one rape every

83 seconds assuming that only one in twenty rapes are

reported, others even go as far as saying someone is raped

every 35 seconds.


Since the recent cases, rape has dominated radio phone-ins

where many South Africans have demanded severe sentencing of

the perpetrators. Some even suggest the reintroduction of

the death penalty as well as flogging or castration.


However, Justice Minister Dullah Omar rejects a

reintroduction of the death sentence which was suspended in

1990 under pressure from human rights lawyers and finally

scrapped in 1995 under President Nelson Mandela's first

non-racial government.


"We want to move towards a society in which we are able to

eliminate violence and state violence is also a form of

violence," Omar said on state radio.


More than 40 years of apartheid have brutalized society in

South Africa, experts say.


"Political violence has transformed into socal violence with

socio-economic foundations," Coomaraswamy said, pointing out

factors such as high unemployment and very strong

patriarchal values in white and black South African

communities where rape quite often is not considered a



In 40 per cent of all reported rape cases, the victims,

quite often under age, were abused by family members or

acquaintances, the Johannesburg-based People Opposing Women

Abuse (POWA) says.


Changing such complacent attitudes is one priority of

anti-rape activists who also campaign for better education

to debrutalize society and give more support for victims in

the legal system. Inefficiency and a lack of awareness by

the police adds to victims' trauma rather than helping

defuse it, POWA says.


Women who sought the organization's help told tales of

police officers questioning whether incidents counted as

rape because of the way the victim was dressed, alleging

that the woman "asked for it". A lack of private facilities

to give testimony at police stations was another oft-cited

problem. Many victims have to tell their story to a whole

room full of policemen. Police also lack advanced forensic

testing methods and identification rooms.


However, isolated moves are under way to improve the

situation such as a government pilot scheme of "One-Stop

Crisis Centres", introduced in March last year.


Since the idea of visiting a police station is an added

trauma for many victims, these separate centres aim at

hosting under one roof all the emergency help a rape victim

needs: trained personnel to take reports, medical personnel

and counselling services are available. Other initiatives

include three-day workshops run by anti-rape organizations

where police officers learn to understand through role

playing how difficult and frustrating it can be to lay

charges against perpetrators.


Once charges are laid it can still be an uphill struggle to

get a conviction in South Africa's overburdened justice

system. The often criticised generous granting of bail

enrages many victims who see the alleged rapists back on the

streets a few days later.


Recently two man in their 20s were let free on bail of 500

rand (107 dollars) for rape and culpable homicide. The

12-year-old girl they allegedly raped bled to death from her

wounds in the public toilet where the crime was committed.


Another bone of contention is leniency of the sentences many

rapists get away with, leading to demands for a minimum

sentence which the South African government is currently

considering, Justice Minister Omar said.


However high sentences might be, "rape survivors will never

forget their experience," says Jill Huber from the Centre

for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation in

Johannesburg. "But they can learn to cope with it depending

on their personal history."



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