South Africa is notorious for its high rate of violent crime, with sexual violence high on the list as we are considered the “Rape Capital of the World.” Our statistics are equal to, if not higher than, countries that are at war where rape is used as a weapon of war to systematically terrorize entire communities. Are we celebrating 15-odd years of democracy or are we in a “post war” period of a different kind? During the years from 2005 to 2006, 54,926 women reported that they were raped, 43 percent of these were children below the ages of 12. Keeping in mind that the Sexual Offences Act was only instituted in 2008 – these statistics only reflect women as the rape of men was not yet recognized by the law. Between April 2010 and March 2011, the sexual offences statistics were the 66,195 rapes were reported in South Africa (SAPS Statistics, 2010). More than 40% of these were of children below the age of 12 years. A phenomenon almost unique to South Africa is the rape of infants, with an estimate of over a 1000 children below the ages of 2 raped each year. In 2006 the South African Police Services stated that only one in every 35 women report rape, bringing the actual number of rape occurrences much higher (more than two million in the last year). It is estimated that one in every three South African women and one in every five South African men will either be raped or attempted to be raped in their lifetime.
There are many reasons why victims, perpetrators and the public at large do not talk about, or report, rape. One reason for this may be attributed to the small percentage (9%) of cases reported by adults and three percent (3%) of cases reported by children that have led to crime convictions. Other reasons include psychological, emotional and social reasons, such as society blaming the victim due to myths such as “she was wearing a short skirt” or “she asked for it.”
Approximately 80% of perpetrators are known to their victims, as either family members or friends, which makes it more difficult for the victim to report the crime. Victims are often asked to keep quiet so as not to bring “shame” upon the family. The fear of talking about the rape can re-traumatize the victim. Perpetrators often threaten and manipulate their victims with children are particularly vulnerable to intimidation and manipulation as they are taught to trust and obey adults.
South African youth, especially young women, are known to be vulnerable in terms of HIV infection. The Department of Health cited in 2006 that women between the ages of 19 and 25 are more infected than men in the same age group, proving this statement. The contextual social lifestyle of youth increases exposure to high risk behaviour. The frequent abuse of alcohol and drugs at social events places youth at more risk to sexual assault, date rape and other forms of physical violence.
‘The youth need to be the leaders of tomorrow, as well as today’s agents of change’ – this notion places a large amount of the responsibility to influence a change for the future on adolescents and young adults.