More than 25 percent of South African men have raped; of those, nearly half said they had raped more than one person, says a new report by the Medical Research Council (MRC).
The study was conducted in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces, using a Statistics South Africa model of one male interviewee in each of 1,738 households across all racial groupings, and from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds in both rural and urban areas. Half the men in the study were under 25 years old and 70 percent were under 30 years old.
The MRC study - Understanding Men's Health and Use of Violence: Interface of Rape and HIV in South Africa - said all the men interviewed were tested for HIV/AIDS, and were "somewhat younger than men in the general population"; it found that "men who are physically violent towards their intimate partners are more likely to have HIV."
Of the 27.6 percent of men who had committed rape, "23.2 percent of men said they had raped two to three women, 8.4 percent had raped four to five women, 7.1 percent said they had raped six to 10, and 7.7 percent said they had raped more than 10 women or girls," the report said.
"Asked about their age at the first time they had forced a woman or girl into sex, 9.8 percent said they were under 10 years old, 16.4 percent were 10-14 years old, 46.5 percent were 15-19 years old, 18.6 percent were 20-24 years old, 6.9 percent were 25-29 years old, and 1.9 percent were 30 or older."
It is estimated that 500,000 rapes are committed annually in South Africa, and that for every 25 men accused of rape, only one is convicted of the crime. South Africa also has the world highest number of people living with HIV/AIDS: 5.5 million in a population of about 48 million.
Prevalence in the sample group was "striking". "Among all men aged 25 to 45 [it] was in excess of 25 percent, and among those aged 30 to 39 years, over 40 percent. When examined by rape perpetration status, however, there was no overall difference between the HIV prevalence of men who had raped women and those who had never raped," the report commented.
"Men who disclosed having raped were significantly more likely to have engaged in a range of other risky sexual behaviours. They were more likely to have had more than 20 sexual partners, transactional sex, sex with a prostitute, heavy alcohol consumption."
"Men who disclosed having raped were significantly more likely to have engaged in a range of other risky sexual behaviours. They were more likely to have had more than 20 sexual partners, transactional sex, sex with a prostitute, heavy alcohol consumption, to have been physically violent towards a partner, raped a man, and not to have used a condom consistently in the past year."
Significant factors in the high incidence of rape were parent absenteeism, childhood trauma, bullying, teasing and "deeply embedded ideas about South African manhood ... which can be predominantly addressed through strategies of apprehension and prosecution of perpetrators" the report said.
Nhlanhla Mokoena, a coordinator at People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA), a gender activist NGO, told IRIN that the "law is on the side of perpetrators [of rape], rather than of the side of [rape] survivors."
Like other criminal cases, rape cases were plagued by delays, lost dockets, misplaced rape kits, and overworked prosecutors; complainants were further burdened by the "patriarchal society", which placed the burden of proof on the complainant, while questioning her style of clothing and why she was out late at night, Mokoena said. There is almost no public transport in South Africa.
South Africa's high crime rate was a burden to public prosecutors, who might have only a few minutes to consult with their clients before a case, whereas defence lawyers could spend many days with clients preparing their case.
Mokoena said police did not tell rape survivors that they could make statements when they were not so traumatized, or amend their statements the following day, and there were often years of delay before a rape case came to trial, all of which was detrimental to the success of rape prosecutions.
Delays often led to complainants dropping charges, as was starkly illustrated by the "Buyisiwe" trial.
Buyisiwe was gang-raped in 2005 by eight men who broke into her home in Tembisa, a township in eastern Johannesburg. She was then paraded in the streets, naked, before being gang-raped again next to a pit toilet. The men were all aged between 17 and 20 at the time, and predicated their defence on Buyisiwe being a sex worker.
The case was postponed about 20 times in a court dedicated to dealing with sex crimes before POWA applied to the Johannesburg High Court for the case to be moved. Eventually, seven of the men were found guilty in the High Court, but another suspect is still at large. Sentencing is set down for July 2009.
The MRC study said that to combat rape, society had to address "ideas of masculinity ... [based] on marked gender hierarchy and sexual entitlement of men", and recommended that "rape prevention must focus centrally on changing social norms around masculinity and sexual entitlement."
Mogomotsi Mfalapitsa, spokesman for EngenderHealth, an international NGO promoting sexual and reproductive health in poor communities, told IRIN that from the cradle the boy child was bombarded with "harmful masculinity" messages, from the toy gun to the belief that men should have "multiple concurrent sexual partners", and that it was a man's "right to have sex".
"All males are pulled through the mud [by the incidence of rape in South Africa]. And it means they cannot even play with their nieces without arousing suspicion."
Cultural traditions, such as circumcision schools, had become corrupted, with initiates engaging in rape "to test the new parts", and their crimes claimed as "culture", while the victims did not report the rapes because they were told it was "part of culture".
Changing a society deeply imbued with these perceptions by targeting the male child and extolling the virtues of gender equality would lessen the incidence of rape, Mfalapitsa said.
Since 1996, EngenderHealth has embarked on gender sensitivity programmes in schools and male-dominated environments like the security forces, and has organized "not in our name" protests by the "75 percent" of men who do not rape.
"All males are pulled through the mud [by the incidence of rape in South Africa]," Mfalapitsa said. "And it means they cannot even play with their nieces without arousing suspicion."
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
Hundreds of thousands of readers trust The New Humanitarian each month for quality journalism that contributes to more effective, accountable and inclusive ways to improve the lives of people affected by crises.
Our award-winning stories inform policy-makers and humanitarians, provide accountability and transparency over those meant to help people in need, and provide a platform for conversation and discussion with and among affected and marginalised people.
We’re able to continue doing this thanks to the support of our donors and readers like you who believe in the power of independent journalism. These contributions help keep our journalism free and accessible to all.