The Problem of Rape in South Africa

Shenika Rountree

South Africa has the highest incidence of rape in the world. The statistics are chilling: one in two women are raped; women are more likely to be raped than to learn to read. For every 25 men accused of rape in South African 24 walk free, making the act of pressing charges almost useless. The term corrective rape was coined in the early 2000’s by human rights activist to describe the criminal act of a man forcing himself on a lesbian woman believing it will change her sexual orientation. Children are among the highest growing demographic of rape victims. Sexual violence towards children, including infants has increased over 400% in the last decade.  It is said that practices such as gang rape; child rape and corrective rape are common because they are considered a form of male bonding and dominance

The effects of rape on a woman are destructive to her emotional and physical health. Rape of a young girl can cause everything from internal injury to death. The rape of children often comes from the misguided belief that sex with a child will cure AID’s. Along with the risk of permanent emotional distress rape victims also run a high risk of contracting HIV from their attackers. The rate of HIV in South Africa runs rampant with nearly 20% of the population facing the disease. These women not only face rape but the possibility of a deadly disease to constantly remind them of the terrible event.

The president of South Africa himself is an accused rapist. Jacob Zuma, who was elected President in 2009, was tried and acquitted of raping an HIV-positive woman. He was acquitted because he told the court that the woman had dressed provocatively according to the traditional standard and that it was against Zulu culture for a man to leave a sexually aroused woman unsatisfied. He was aware of her HIV status and had unprotected sex with her anyway. He stated that he showered afterward to “cut the risk” of transmission. This is the same man that headed the National AIDS council in his country. The leader of the country set a dangerous and irresponsible example for the men of his country to follow.

The police of South Africa do little to deter or to educate men on the damage of rape. Men can get as little as five years in prison for raping a women and when they are found guilty of  rape crimes and can serve as little as a fourth of their sentence if found guilty. Many times rapes are committed alongside murder. The most notorious case came in 2008 when South African football celebrity Eudy Simelane an openly gay GLBT activist was gang raped and murdered. Days before her murder she had been receiving death threats because of her sexuality. She often told stories to her support groups about how she had to fight off the men attempting to rape her as a teenager to correct her homosexuality. After being raped she was stabbed 25 times and left to die in a ditch. Of the 5 men who committed the crime only two were convicted of rape. The other three men are on bail avoiding prison through years of case continuances.

            I feel that Eudy Simelane’s celebrity could have been used to highlight rape and murder as the major issue it is. It would have been an amazing learning opportunity but because of South Africa’s desensitization to the issue of rape the story was neither shocking nor did it stir up any feelings among the community. Women should be provided a safe haven to be themselves. There should be more outlets for women to protect themselves.

            Rape is a scary issue that cannot be denied. As a whole this country has a devastating rape epidemic. A recent study found that more than a quarter of men admitted to having raped a woman and of those 46% had committed a rape more than one time. The study, conducted by South Africa’s Medical Research Council, reveals a deeply rooted culture of violence against women, in which men rape in order to feel powerful, and do so with impunity, believing that their superiority entitles them to vent their frustrations on women and children. The men most likely to rape, the researchers found, were not the poorest, but those who had attained some level of education and income

            The placement of blame lies in the cultural perception of rape. Rape is seen as commonplace and acceptable. These cultural biases make it nearly impossible to curb the rate of rape and prosecute those who commit these heinous acts. No women should have to live in fear that her life is in danger because of her sexuality. With the high rate of HIV in South Africa I am astonished that rape of innocent women is not a larger issue. Having the highest rate of rape in the world along with one the highest rates of new HIV cases every year should be enough for the government to stop and pay attention to the issue of rape. Young women with full lives ahead of them are being raped and infected with a deadly disease all due to their vulnerability. The lives of the women in South Africa being raped mirror an image of women throughout history fighting for equality under a system that gives men the privileged ownership over women’s bodies. The publicizing of the rape crisis in South Africa should help bring the attention of international activitists to this problem. The women of South Africa need help and support as they work toward finding solutions and empowerment.