What Is Rape, Myths, Reporting, And Steps To Be Taken

The legal definition of rape varies across countries and settings, and can even change over time. For example, in South Africa, rape was previously defined in the Sexual Offences Act 23 of 1957 as “a man having unlawful, intentional sexual intercourse with a woman without her consent”[1] Rape, targeting women and girls, is a serious problem in South Africa. The 2016/17 Victims of Crime statistical release[2] reported that 250 out of every 100 000 women were victims of sexual offenses compared to 120 out of every 100 000 men. Using the 2016/17 South African Police Service statistics, in which 80% of the reported sexual offenses were rape, together with Statistics South Africa’s estimate that 68,5% of the sexual offense victims were women, we obtain a crude estimate of the number of women raped per 100 000 as 138. This figure is among the highest in the world. For this reason, some have labeled South Africa as the “rape capital of the world”[3]

SA is reflected as perpetuating a “rape culture” because of its patriarchal society[4]. Where women are not forthcoming to sexual advances or, a sense of entitlement is the norm, rape is often considered as an act of punishment used to demonstrate power over women and girls and to manufacture control[5]. Rape is therefore a mechanism of social control and reflects men’s sense of entitlement that stems from the “forced sex” norm in societies[6]. Multiple perpetrator rape or ‘gang rape’ is highly prevalent in SA[7]. Also associated with masculine aggression[8], studies have shown that more than one-third of the women who report being raped have been gang raped[9]. Other studies report a multiple perpetrator rape prevalence ranging between 7 and 9 percent, to as high as 14 percent[10]. Reports have found that gang rapes occurred in response to women saying “no” to their sexual demands[11]. Understanding the complexities of what motivates such behavior is difficult as each offender has their own “psychological makeup” and therefore has different motives for committing the offenses [12]. Gang rapes can also take the form of “streamlining” or “isitimela”, which is a type of rape that is often perpetrated against the girlfriend of one of the men by a group of friends[13].

“Jackrolling”, a form of gang rape, is a South African term for leisure gang rape[14]. This gang rape is distinctive because it is a situation “in which no brutality, no threat even, would be necessary to subdue the victim”[15]. A peculiar characteristic of “jackroll” is that it is seen as a sport and it has been reported that the common view of jackroll is that “it is not a crime it is just a game”[16]. These views demonstrate that violence against women has become “normalized” in society[17]. Another type of rape that is common is “corrective rape” which is “performed”[18] to “cure” lesbians of their homosexuality[19]. In most cases, the victims are black lesbians[20]. South African society is strongly influenced by traditional cultures and religious groups, therefore corrective rape is understood as a response to “protect the status quo of women who are forced to conform to gender stereotypes or suffer the consequences”[21]. There is a common argument from black Africans that the practice of homosexuality is “un-African”[22], something invented during colonization and that which is “exclusive to the white man and his culture”[23]. By detaching black African culture from homosexuality, black gay Africans are marginalized from their own culture. Corrective rape is seen as a “rite of passage” back into the African culture. Such a form of violence is considered acceptable because it is believed that this would then force “these women” to “submit”, become heterosexual, and assume their “proper” role in society[24]. Despite these various forms of rape, there is no single factor that can explain the high prevalence of sexual violence in the country[25] (Smythe et al 150).

Myths about Rape

It is not true that:

  • Rape is an act of love or sex.
  • The rapist is insane or perverted.
  • The rapist is sex starved.
  • There is one profile for a rapist.
  • More common among the poor.
  • Always happens with strangers.
  • Usually in dark places.
  • Usually inter-racial.
  • Women enjoy being raped.
  • Women cry ‘rape’ to get a man into trouble.
  • If women do not fight or get hurt it is not rape.
  • There is a right way to respond to rape.
  • Rapists never return to the same victim for fear of retaliation.
  • Prostitutes cannot get raped.
  • Men cannot control lust.
  • Girls say ‘no’ when they mean yes.
  • A survivor who does not report the rape to the police is responsible for further rape.
  • A survivor’s reliving the rape should be discouraged.

Factors affecting the reporting of sexual offenses [26]

Reasons for not reporting a sexual offense

  • Fear of not being believed or being accused of lying
  • Feelings of shame, guilt, humiliation and embarrassment
  • Feelings of pity and love towards the offender
  • Problems of physical access to police or social workers
  • Fear of retaliation or intimidation by the offender, especially when combined with a lack of confidence that the legal process will result in a conviction
  • Fear of legal processes, including experiencing rudeness and poor treatment by the police
  • Fear of having to relive the trauma in court and during the investigation
  • Fear of upsetting the stability of the family
  • Fear of the power and authority of the abuser
  • Fear of loss of economic support by the abuser
  • Preference for cultural means of resolving disputes (such as the payment of damages by the offender)
  • Fear of ostracism or ridicule by peers
  • Wanting to avoid the stigma attached to being raped (being labeled as ‘damaged’)

Reasons for reporting a sexual offense

  • The belief that sexual assault is a serious offense that should be reported
  • To ensure personal safety and future protection from the offender
  • To prevent the offense from being repeated, or the offender’s harming others
  • To make the offender take responsibility for his/her actions
  • To ensure the offender is brought to justice and punished
  • To obtain help
  • To regain a sense of control
  • To gain compensation

Steps to be taken after been raped[27]  

First Response: Your goal is to stay alive and get to a safe place as soon as possible!

Contact a friend or family member: The first person you tell about the rape is called the “first witness”. This person may need to make a statement to the police about your condition and, if possible, should accompany you to the hospital or police station.

What not to do: Do not wash or throw away your clothes, no matter how much you want to. There might be hair, blood, or semen on your body or clothes that can be used as evidence of the rape. Put your clothes in a paper bag.

If you were drunk or stoned at the time of the rape: Don’t let that stop you from reporting the matter and getting medical treatment – being intoxicated is not a crime, rape is!

Try and remember: Provide as many details as you can of the incident to the person helping you. This may serve as useful evidence.

Dealing with the police: Initially, only a brief statement is required from you. Make sure you read over the statement before signing it. You can provide a more detailed statement later. Ask for a copy of your statement. If you fear retribution or intimidation from the rapist/s, make sure the police are aware of this and ask that the rapist not be allowed out on bail, or apply for a protection order.

At the police station, you have the RIGHT to:

  • Make your statement in a private room
  • Make your statement to a female officer (if there is one)
  • Make your statement in your own language
  • Have a friend or family member with you for support

Ask for a copy of your statement (you are entitled to by law), write down the name of the investigating officer, case number, and the phone number for the police station so you can call to check the progress of your case. Remember, you are not alone!

Rape and abuse assistance: Rape Trauma Syndrome (RTS) is a form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that often affects rape survivors. It is important to get support and counseling after being sexually abused. Counseling services are offered by many organizations.

Dial *134*7355# to find a care facility in your immediate location. Available in all nine provinces!

HIV / AIDS: It is important to get antiretroviral (ARVs) within 72 hours of penetration, attempted penetration, oral sex, or anal sex. You will also receive PEP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis) medication.

Should I report my attack to the police? While there’s no way to change what happened, you can seek justice while helping to stop it from happening to someone else. Reporting to the police is the key to preventing sexual assault: Every time we lock up a rapist, we are preventing him/ her from committing another attack. It’s the most effective tool that exists to prevent future rapes. In the end, though, whether or not to report is your decision to make.  

[1] South Africa. Sexual Offences Act 23 No. of 1957 (as amended).

[2] Statistics South Africa, Victims of Crime Survey, Release 2016/17, September 2017.

[3] Ronet Bachman, Violence against Women – A National Crime Victimization Survey Report, 1994.

[4] Vogelman, Lloyd. “Violent Crimes: Rape”. People and the violence in South Africa. B. McKendrick and WC Hoffman. Cape Town: Oxford University Press, 1990: 6-134. Print.

[5] Christofides, J. Nicola, et al. “Other Patients are really in need of Medical Attention”- The Quality of Health Care Services for Rape Survivors in South Africa”. N.p., 2005. Print.

[6] Anderson, Neil, et al. Beyond Victims and Villains: The Culture of Sexual Violence in South Johannesburg. Johannesburg: CIETAfrica, 2000. Print.

[7] Dartnall, Elizabeth, and Rachel, Jewkes. “Best Practice & Research”. Clinical Obstetrics and Gynaecology 27 (2013): 3-13. Print

[8] Vogelman, Lloyd. “The Sexual Face of Violence: Rapists on Rape”. Johannesburg: Raven Press, 1990. Print

[9] Abrahams, Naeemah, Lorna J. Martin, and, Lisa Vetten. “An Overview of Gender-Based Violence in South Africa and South African Responses”. Crime, Violence, and Injury Prevention in South Africa: Developments and Challenges. Niekerk and N. Duncan. University of South Africa: Medical Research Council, 2004. 231-255. Print

[10] Dartnall, Elizabeth, and Rachel, Jewkes. “Best Practice & Research”. Clinical Obstetrics and Gynaecology 27 (2013): 3-13. Print

[11] World Health Organization. “World Report on Violence and Health”. Geneva: WHO, 2002. Web. 21 July 2016.

[12] Lawrence, B, and, J, van Rensburg. “Forms of Sexual Abuse and the Practical Implications of Applying South African Law to Sexual Offence Cases”. Sexual Abuse Dynamics, Assessments, and Healing. GM Spies. Pretoria: Van Schaik, 2006. Print

[13] Wood, Kate. “Contextualising Group Rape in Post-apartheid South Africa”. Culture, Health & Sexuality 7(2005): 303-317. Print.

[14] Taunyane, Omogolo. “A Look at Gang Rape and ‘Jackrolling’ On #Spotlightonrape Campaign”. Radio 702. 26 May 2016. Web. 10 July 2016. http://702.co.za/articles/13849/a-look-atgang-rape-and-jackrolling-on-spotlightonrape-campaign

[15] Medea, Andra, and, Kathleen, Thompson. Against Rape. London: Peter Owen, 1972. Print.

[16] Mathiane, Nomavenda. Beyond the headlines: Truths of life in Soweto. Johannesburg: Southern publishers, 1990. Print

[17] Pather Ra’eesa. “Stats SA Report on Sexual Violence Questionable and ‘Ridiculous’, say Experts”. MG. Mail and Guardian. 13 May 2016. Web. 14 June 2016

[18] Vetten, Lisa. “Rape and Other Forms of Sexual Violence in South Africa”. ISSA Africa: PolBrief, 2014. Web. 14 May 2016

[19] Strudwick, Patrick. “Crisis in South Africa: The Shocking Practice of ‘Corrective Rape’ – Aimed at ‘Curing’ Lesbians”. The Independent. 4 Jan. 2014. Web. 16 March 2016

[20] Okafor Udoka. “‘Corrective’ Rape in South Africa: Targeted Violence against Homosexual Womyn”. The Huffington Post. 02 Feb. 2016. Web. 01 Jun 2016.

[21] Smith, Lydia. “Corrective Rape: The Homophobic Fallout of Post-Apartheid South Africa”. The Telegraph. 30 June 2016. Web. 7 July 2016

[22] Yoruba, Cosmic. “Homosexuality is “unAfrican” in Pre-colonial History”. HolaAfrica. 17 June 2016. Web. 30 June 2016.

[23] Okafor Udoka. “‘Corrective’ Rape in South Africa: Targeted Violence against Homosexual Womyn”. The Huffington Post. 02 Feb. 2016. Web. 01 Jun 2016.

[24] IBID

[25] Smythe, Dee, et al. “Caught Between Policy and Practice: Health and Justice Responses to Gender-Based Violence”. Tygerberg: MRC-UNISA, 2008. Print.

[26] Vetten, L. 2014. Rape and other forms of sexual violence in South Africa. Institute for Security Studies. www.saferspaces.org.za

[27] Tears Foundation. 2020. What to do if you are raped. South Africa: Tears-bringing hope and healing.

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