An African Iceberg? 

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Keeping a file of random clippings is an old-fashioned thing to do, but sometimes it offers you unexpected connections. Sometimes it's a connection that you don't even want to see. But there it is, so what are you going to do about it?

In June, 2009, South Africa's Medical Research Council published a report which said that over a quarter of South African men — 27.6 per cent — have raped somebody. Almost half of those men admitted to raping two or three women or girls. One in thirteen of the self-confessed rapists said they had raped at least ten victims.

The numbers are astonishing and horrifying, but on the assumption that at least a few of the interviewees were ashamed, or were afraid that their admission might later be used against them, those numbers are probably low. The Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces, where the study was conducted, are among South Africa's poorer provinces, but there is no self-evident link between poverty and rape.

The study was a model of statistical rigour. It used a Statistics South Africa model of one male interviewee in each of 1,738 households across all racial groups and income levels in both rural and urban areas. Half of the men interviewed were under 25 years old; 70 per cent of the rapists had forced a woman or girl into sex for the first time when they were under 20.

The researchers were not even trying to count South Africa's rapists. The study was called "Understanding Men's Health and Use of Violence: Interface of Violence and HIV in South Africa," and it was really investigating the linkage, if any, between sexual violence and the spread of HIV. It turned out there was none — but that the actual amount of rape going on is completely off the scale even for an extremely violent society like South Africa.

I found another report claiming that 40 per cent of South African women can expect to be raped during their lives, but I had nothing to add to the discussion so I just filed the information away. Then last November I saw a report in The Guardian about a study carried out in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo in which 34 per cent of the men interviewed — over a third — admitted to rape.

That's a war zone, of course, and it may not be representative of the Congo as a whole. But I did begin to wonder how widespread this phenomenon was, and I came across a study in the African Journal of Reproductive Health dating back to 2000, in which 20 per cent of a thousand women interviewed in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania (hardly a war zone) said they had been raped. Only one-tenth of those rapes were reported to the police.



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