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Rape in South Africa
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Women’s Power Book
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Prevalence Police crime statistics released in September 2012 state that in 2011/2012 there were a total of 9 193 sexual offences reported to the South African Police Services (SAPS) in the Western Cape. This translates into just under 27 cases per day. In total, 64 514 sexual offences were reported countrywide for that period. The difficulty with using statistics released by the SAPS is that many incidents of rape go unreported; some studies[1] estimate that if all rapes were reported, the figures could be as high as 84 000 for the province and just over 500 000 for the country. The reasons that so many incidents of rape go unreported to the police include: fear of retaliation or intimidation by the perpetrator the fact that many survivors lack access to services the personal humiliation of being exposed as a victim of rape in a community the extreme suffering that goes hand in hand with rape as a psychological trauma reluctance to cause pain to loved ones the fact that the offender is often known to the victim and frequently a member of the victim’s family the possibility of negative financial consequences, particularly if the victim is a child and her family relies on the perpetrator’s income to survive. These factors are compounded by the stigma associated with rape, and by the fact that many people in our society subscribe to myths and stereotypes about rape. Most rape myths lay the blame or responsibility at the door of the victim, by suggesting that her behaviour somehow led the rapist to rape her. This can lead to further under-reporting, as rape victims suffer feelings of guilt, or fear of facing the blame of their community or family. In addition, many survivors only report several months, or even years, after the incident. Opening old wounds and reliving the trauma of rape all over again can be daunting. However, the barrier to reporting that Rape Crisis explores most deeply in our work is the rape victim’s lack of faith in the ability of the South African Criminal Justice System (CJS) to offer her services, to protect her, to treat her with dignity and respect and, above all, to support her claim to justice and to act as a deterrent to rapists. Causes of rape in South Africa A culture of violence South Africa is a country where a substantial portion of the male population historically bonded in a violent and highly militarised context:[2] both universal conscription of white men and the absorption of many black men into the liberation struggle have contributed to a culture that sees violence as a legitimate means of resolving conflicts – a culture where ‘tough, aggressive, brutal and competitive masculinity is promoted’[3] and weakness regarded, with contempt, as ‘feminine’. Through this violent struggle, South Africa has developed what many commentators refer to as a ‘culture of violence’, or at least an easy acceptance of violence.[4] South African society, its culture and its institutions have been profoundly affected by the institutionalised dehumanisation imposed by the apartheid system as well as the levels of force used, on the one hand, to enforce these policies and, on the other hand, to resist them. In this way, the system traumatised an entire nation. Every person in South Africa has been affected by the violence, structural and physical, of apartheid in one form or another. At its worst, this continues to play out in a profound disrespect for human life and the integrity of individual human beings and an attitude of impunity where the consequences of violence are concerned, which in turn causes more violence. An important part of constructing a new shared morality is South Africa’s constitution, which enshrines the right to gender equality.[5] But in the daily reality of many people this remains nothing more than an aspiration, and most commentators agree that interpersonal relations in South Africa remain marked by extreme gender inequality.[6] The circumstances described above should be considered together with other factors in order to provide a comprehensive explanation for South Africa’s high levels of sexual violence. Situational factors such as poverty and drug abuse are inadequate on their own as explanations; it is only when these factors are seen in the context of the massive and institutionalised violence perpetrated against South Africans by the apartheid system that we can begin to understand why sexual violence is so pervasive across population groups. A failure to recognise that South Africans will carry the scars of apartheid for generations to come is naïve, dangerous and counterproductive to the project of building a new egalitarian value system and to transforming our institutions in accordance with those values. Political transition and sexual violence Next
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