The shocking truth about rape in South Africa

International finance magazine The Economist has run a feature uncovering what it calls South Africa’s ‘disgrace’ – laying bare unsettling rape statistics in some regions in South Africa.

The publication cited an anonymous survey conducted in 2016 in Diepsloot – a densely population township north of Johannesburg – where 38% of men (two in five) admitted to having forced a woman into have sex with them.

Extending the questions to broader violence – having beaten or threatened to hurt a woman – the statistic jumps to 54%, almost three in five men.

Even more problematic findings came out of the study, one of which is a widely known problem in South Africa: a large number of rape cases go unreported, and when they are reported, little is done.

According to the study, of over 500 sexual assault cases reported to the Diepsloot police since 2013, only one case led to a conviction. According to The Economist, it is estimated that only one in every nine cases of rape is reported to the police.

Rape statistics in South Africa

Coverage of rape in South Africa has been controversial and notoriously misinformed for many years. This is because of the aforementioned low reporting of rape cases, and poor record keeping and reporting of rape statistics.

Simply put, beyond the official number of cases reported to the SAPS, we do not know the true extent of rape and sexual assault in South Africa.

An infamous – and debunked – statistic quoted by South African actress Charlize Theron, and widely cited in media across the world, was that a woman or child is raped every 26 seconds in South Africa.

This statistic would imply that over 1.2 million women and children are raped every year. The source of the claim was a 1998 estimate from a Cape Town Rape Crisis centre, based on the understanding that only one in 20 rapes are reported.

This figure has been repeatedly used by international media, and repeatedly shot down.

The most recent data from the South African Police Service shows that between April 2016 and December 2016, there were 30,069 reported cases of rape – down from 32,161 cases over the same period in 2015.

This data shows that South Africa’s rape statistics are double the country’s murder rate over this (275 day) period at 53.8 cases per 100,000 people in the country. This equates to one person getting raped every 13 minutes.

Assuming that The Economist’s estimate that one in every nine cases go unreported, that figure gets even more alarming, to someone being raped every 2 minutes.

Local fact-checking group Africa Check has gone to great lengths to correct false South African rape stats being spread around, and has explained why it is dangerous to claim any country as the ‘rape capital of the world’.

It noted that South Africa’s legal definition of rape is very broad. The act states that “any person (‘A’) who unlawfully and intentionally commits an act of sexual penetration with a complainant (‘B’), without the consent of B, is guilty of the offence of rape”.

This includes the oral, anal or vaginal penetration of a person with a genital organ, anal or vaginal penetration with any object and the penetration of a person’s mouth with the genital organs of an animal.

Statistics provide to Africa Check by the South African Police Service revealed that 42,596 rapes were reported in 2015/16.

Read: South Africa’s latest crime stats: everything you need to know

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The shocking truth about rape in South Africa