WTF Wednesday: South Africa, Rape Capital of the World

Posted on
Apr 3, 2013
Posted in: WTF, WTF Wednesdays

Note: all of the links below are safe for work, but they deal with some pretty serious issues. I read through a lot of the articles and can tell you, it fucked with my head mightily. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read them. If anything, you probably should. I just wanted to properly prepare you for what lies ahead: it is not funny. It is not lighthearted. It will not make you feel warm or fuzzy inside. But it’s a discussion we should nevertheless be having.

A road in one of the townships outside Cape Town, where rape is an epidemic.

I loved South Africa. I really did. I had a lovely time there, and I sincerely want to go back to both Cape Town and Bushman’s Kloof. I’d like to see more of the country, and, if possible, more of the continent of Africa as a whole.

But I feel like I’d be doing everyone a disservice if I didn’t discuss the issue of rape in South Africa.

In recent weeks, rape has come up a lot in news, particularly in the U.S. The recent conviction of two high school athletes who raped a young woman who was passed-out drunk (while texting, tweeting, and filming their crime) has led to a lot of discussion about how much we tolerate rape as as society. How much we overlook, how much we underreport, how much we blame victims.

Recently, CNN’s Poppy Harlow came under fire for seeming too sympathetic in her discussion of the high school rapists – reporting that their lives were ruined after the conviction. People are demanding that Harlow apologize. Kelly McBride of the Poytner Insistute recently came under fire herself for saying that railing on CNN and Harlow is a waste of time.

I have a lot of feelings about all of these issues, of course. I do believe we live in a rape-tolerant culture (there was even a shocking thread on reddit a while back during which rapists had the opportunity to explain themselves). It’s a serious problem, and universally uncomfortable to talk about. While I think that Harlow did sound sympathetic towards the high school rapists (which was understandably disturbing), McBride makes an excellent point about that: if we constantly see rapists as heinous, inhuman monsters, we will fail to identify them in our everyday lives. They can be our neighbors, our classmates, our coworkers.

And while I don’t know if there’s anything conclusive to be said about all of these recent stories in the U.S. news (besides the obvious: that rape is abhorrent and widespread), I’m relieved that people are discussing the issue. We’re talking about rape, and as difficult as that conversation is, I think it’s an important one to have.

And so, while I don’t necessarily want to spend the afternoon writing about rape in South Africa, I think that it is an important thing to talk about.

The rate of sexual violence in South Africa is the highest in the world. Estimates say that a rape occurs every 17 seconds in that country, and that a woman born there is more likely to be raped than to learn how to read. While 144 cases of rape are reported to police every day in Cape Town, rape is nevertheless notoriously under-reported (some estimates say that less than 10% of all rapes are reported to police, and of those, roughly 10% of rapists are convicted. So rapists have a 99% chance of getting away with their crimes).

The situation is even worse for children. In one of South Africa’s largest townships, Khayelitsha, it’s estimated that one in three children will be raped before they turn 18. One in three. Not even the school that Oprah opened in South Africa was immune to this violence. Part of the problem is the “Virgin Cleansing Myth” – the widespread (and obviously inaccurate) belief that sex with a virgin will cure you of HIV or AIDs.

This means that as the AIDs epidemic spreads, younger and younger children are getting raped.

Are you sitting down? Because this next piece of information is fucking horrifying: infant rape is a growing problem in South Africa.

Infant. Rape. I literally cannot think of two words that should have less business together.

After a few hours of reading all of this, I’m not gonna lie: it all sounds kind of hopeless. It’s ghastly and terrible in a way that I can’t really fathom. And it’s very tempting to turn a blind eye to it and ignore it.

Obviously, that mentality is part of the problem – we need to draw attention to this issue. And it seems like that’s starting to happen, at least a little bit. There are groups that are organizing rape awareness rallies in South Africa. There are clinics which offer care and hope to rape victims (many of whom have contracted HIV or AIDs as a result of the crimes inflicted upon them).

There is, in the midst of all of this violence and brutality, some hope. It’s not much. But it’s something. The conversation has started. And as difficult as it is to do, it’s up to all of us to keep it going.

Leave a Comment

  • Rosemarie

    I heard a story this morning on NPR about a man on death row for raping and killing his girlfriend’s 6 month old baby. He is trying to get out of the execution because while he did mean to rape the baby, it wasn’t his intent to kill the baby. Apparently intent to kill is needed for the death penalty. When I woke up this morning, I didn’t think I would hear about infant rape not once, but twice.

  • This is so tragic. Although the content is incredibly disturbing, thank you for sharing.

  • I went to South Africa in 2010 and before I went, I read a ton of statistics and horror stories about rape (and murder, and being stabbed with AIDS knives/needles) and I have to say, I was scared out of my mind to go there. While nothing happened to me while I was there, I was hypersensitive to the issue and to my surroundings at all time, which at times made it almost difficult to feel comfortable and to actually enjoy myself.

    I am curious to know what the statistics are of tourists/travelers in SA getting raped. I know it’s rampant among people who live there, but I wonder how prevalent it is with people traveling there (if they even report it!).

    I have to say that I had no idea about the infant rape or the one-in-three being raped before the age of 18. It makes me sick to my stomach and wish that there was more that could be done besides just making people aware of it. 🙁

  • Jake

    Thank you for sharing! This is a timely post, and while it’s discouraging to hear about the issue, the problem seems even more dismal when we do nothing about it. I recommend a really fantastic documentary based on a book by two NYT journalists about women’s impoverishment in the developing world…it’s called Half the Sky..a segment of it focuses on the state of widespread rape in African countries. It does seem impossible to overcome the stats as they are, but the video also highlights efforts by some native women who have become proponents for change in their own communities. It’s quite emotional but also really motivating!
    Thank you, Geraldine, for using this platform to bring attention to the issue!

  • Anisa

    I don’t know what to say about this post other than I think it is great that you wrote about this horrible subject and are helping to spread awareness about it. This saddens my heart.

  • Jess

    This…this is just horrifying. All of it- I can’t wrap my mind around any of it. Thank you so much for writing this post.

  • Dawn Shepard

    Wow. This is super disturbing. Travel provides an opportunity to see the world and experience new places and sometimes what we see is really upsetting. Thank you for sharing this experience.

    When I went to Mexico I saw poverty in ways I had never seen before and I saw it everyday of my stay. The disturbing stuff is intertwined with the trip and can’t be ignored and it’s hard to talk about. Thanks for not ignoring it.

  • Laura

    Thank you for sharing. The reality of rape is something we, as a culture, do turn a blind eye to. But I am hopeful that more stories like this one will help open our eyes and see that we are responsible for fighting this injustice because we know about it.

  • Laur

    aaaaaarrrgghhhhh I’m sorry, I know rape is a prevalent issue ACROSS THE WORLD, not just SA and it deserves to be addressed appropriately, but it irks me when people presume to know the worst about a country according to some stats they found online. South Africa is a beautiful, diverse country, it’s my home, and having to constantly be reminded of all the bad is annoying at best. It’s bad enough that we’re labelled the worst i.t.o violent crime, as if no-one gets shot overseas, or gets raped in places like india, nobody rushes into cinemas or primary schools here and shoots everybody in sight … it just gets really annoying when everybody looks past all the good in this country and just focus (with a ginormous spotlight) on the worst.

    It’s time we get over the ‘continent labelling’ and address the issues prevalent in all countries due to ignorance and lack of education!

    • Everywhereist

      Laur –

      I agree that rape is a worldwide problem – that’s why I started this post about a highly publicized rape incident in the states, and noted that it’s a problem everywhere.

      With regard to there being more to South Africa that just violence against women, yes, there is more to the country – that’s why I spent the last MONTH writing about my time there, and the lovely experiences I had. However, rape is very much an issue in South Africa (particularly in townships) and I felt I would be remiss to write about your beautiful country and not touch on this ugly reality of it. Many people aren’t aware of it – particularly coming from the states, where our news can be quite insular.

      I’m sorry if this post, in your words, annoys you. But I’m still glad that I wrote it, and I hope that you understand why I did. Consequently, I would expect that people writing about the states note our problems with health care, our antiquated prison systems, and our epidemic of gun violence. Are there more to our countries than these ugly realities? Yes, absolutely. But the ugly realities are there. And I think it’s important that we start a discussion about it.

    • Shannon

      I’m sorry but I find this comment extremely disturbing…
      This is why issues cannot be dealt with and the country continues to decline!
      Everyone is so worried about being “labelled”, they’re watching everyone else and pointing fingers and trying to shift blame.
      South Africa is the Rape Capital of the World for a reason. Not because “let’s ignore the rest of the world and point fingers at South Africa”, no, it’s because millions of Young children, women and men are being stripped of their dignity and human rights, being tortured and murdered. Their lives cut short and either their loved ones or themselves get to watch the monster who did this walk free. STOP pointing your finger at everyone else and open your eyes to the issues in South Afrca. They need to be addressed and dealt with, no one is going to stop because it “annoys” you. Grown up and start acting like an adult, not like a child in nursery school.

      It just disgusts and disturbs me to see comments like this.

  • omg you have been there ! must been scary 0,o

    • Jenni Davidson

      Anoofa, with reference to both Laur (I too am South African) and Geraldine’s honest and enlightened perspectives on a beautiful country with inherent challenges, your comment demonstrates the epitome of “annoying.”

      • Lola

        Jenni and Laur, I can well understand your annoyance over the topic and people’s ignorant reactions to it. My husband grew up in South Africa…was a dual citizen till he became an adult and had to choose his homeland. Though we are American we have lived in several different countries throughout our lives. We’ve experienced the joy of discovering the wonders of other cultures. I wouldn’t want to live my life any other way. Right now we live in the Philippines where some would lament the highest corrption rate in Asia or the high volume of people trafficking that goes on right under our noses. Of course it’s easy for those of us from Western nations to forget that the US and UK raped Africa a century and a half ago, stealing people’s llives and freedom and dignity among other things. All societies have severe issues to address, but looking at others and saying, “see , they have problems, too” doesn’t make ours go away…or appear better by comparison. Ugly is ugly. In the same way, saying “we have good things so let’s just talk about those” does th.e human race a disservice. We’re on this planet together and though we have different societies, we are all one human race. There’s a community responsibility that comes with that. We want to help those who are hungry; we want to help those threatened byngenocide; and we want to help those who are being abused. But we need to be aware in order to make a difference. It’s too bad brainless people concoct prejudices, but we don’t have to stoop to their level. The rest of us can rally and work together and offer hope for change if we have the courage to be honest.

  • This is heavy but thanks for doing a lot of digging and spreading the word. Change happens one enlightened mind at a time.

  • I knew rape in South Africa was bad, but I had no idea of the extent; it’s a pandemic! I was just over there last summer for several weeks and fell in love with the country. I knew the crime, poverty and racism were all really huge issues, but I really had no clue that these rape statistics were even possible! Thank you for sharing. I think the most meaningful thing we can get from travel is awareness of such atrocities. Spreading the word and creating grass-roots movements start the positive change reaction.

  • Editorial like this is a vital tool for educating the masses. So often we live in our own little bubbles choosing not to acknowledge the heinous crimes of our generation. Our justice systems are polluted with political motivation,corporate brown nosing and self important scum bags who fail to ensure criminals are condemned for their crimes. In the western world you are more likely to go to jail for speeding than you are for raping an innocent.

    Thank you for being a link in the chain for positive change.

  • Cam

    Other fun facts: local people I worked with in Africa believed that,
    – blood oranges are injected with HIV-positive blood by the whites trying to get rid of the Africans
    – condoms are infected with HIV (same reason)
    – HIV tests are infected…
    – antiretrovirals are infected…
    – you name it, if it’s provided by the whites, it is infected
    – sleeping with a virgin is the only cure

    What I find the most terrifying, though, is that, living in a “civilised” world, I have yet to meet a woman who hasn’t been raped or threatened with rape at least once in her life. Or that those who are brave enough to admit it happened to them end up accused of “asking for it” in some way.

    Thank you for writing this, Geraldine. Nothing will change (anywhere) if we don’t talk about it.

    • In which country in Africa were you? I only ask this because visitors to the continent tend to speak of Africa as one big country as opposed to a continent with many different countries,cultures, beliefs, traditions and issues. When you say locals in Africa you make it seem like we all believe that which I am certain was not your intention.

  • SugarMagnolia

    I’ve been reading this blog since I moved to Seattle a year ago, and this is my first time coming out of lurking to comment.

    Thank you thank you thank you for bringing to light and spreading the word about this intensely difficult subject, both here and abroad. You and Kelly McBride are correct: rapists and other sexual abusers don’t come in a cloud of ominous music and they don’t look any different than other, law-abiding people we encounter in our daily lives. In my case, it was a member of an opposing kickball team. I was not raped, but I was sexually groped – literally as I was playing and because he “thought I wouldn’t mind.” As if my body is something he had a right to help himself to just because he felt like it. And what was also bad was that my husband and I were the ones who left the game early – he was pissed, I was pissed, and we both agreed we needed to get out of the situation – not the groper. The umpire later admitted to our team captain (not me) that he should have ejected the groper immediately, and I think he was another example of how uncomfortable people are when it comes to dealing with anything sexually inappropriate and how they often freeze in the moment.

    So thank you again for having the courage to discuss this, especially as it pertains to the horrors in South Africa. I absolutely cannot comprehend the statistics you cited. To be honest, I didn’t even know about the high rate of crime in South Africa until I started reading about the Oscar Pistorious case, and you opened my eyes even wider. As someone mentioned before, nothing will ever change, if we don’t talk about this.

  • You’re so right in saying that this Needs to be out in the open and discussed. I didn’t know the rape percentage was so high in South Africa…. And infant rape…. There have been a few reported cases of that here in the Netherlands and it completely completely is beyond my comprehension that anyone could even think about raping an infant. How sick are you?! While rape is horrible enough on older girls, it’s beyond that on babies and infants. Thanks for writing this article!

  • Thank you for writing this Geraldine. I especially appreciate the fact that you had lots of wonderful things to share about South Africa as well. Rape is indeed a serious problem here. While I am not South African born, I have lived here for a few years. I love this country but this issue can not be ignored. My friends and I had the discussion about infant rape just last weekend. It is beyond disgusting and cruel to inflict such pain on a child who can not even begin to comprehend what is happening to them or even bear the physical pain of the experience. There are so many reports of toddlers getting raped in the news lately. A few cases about women raped by the police. Stories of people being raped in jail cells. School children being abused. Women being raped during robberies in their homes. It is an ugly reality but it is out there. A lot of rape awareness campaigns have been undertaken in recent times. This is especially after a young lady died from her injuries after being gang raped by a group of young men. This was shortly after a video of a group of young boys gang raping a mentally disabled girl went viral. The dialogue on how to bring an end to this has started. That is a huge step. Talking about it will ensure combating it remains a priority. Every country in the world has its issues, this is one of South Africa’s and there is no beating it in silence.

  • Stephanie

    They need to hand these out (invented by a SA woman..)

  • Nothing will change if people fear speaking out. I agree.
    I do feel compelled to add that:
    Awareness on its own … changes nothing. Only action does.
    If this post Geraldine wrote moves you. Makes you angry. Terrifies you …
    Please consider donating to organizations who help those of who have lived this.
    Because awareness on its own will change nothing. We NEED action.
    Thank you Geraldine for taking the time to flag this.
    To the rest of you, I beg you… reach out.
    You are needed more than you know.

  • Not to add salt to wound, but its Infant. Rape, AIDS.
    Those virgins are being infected as they get raped.

  • Sine

    I dont understand how child rape is rising yet people still dont want to talk about it. Shouldnt this be an issue that we all work together to concur like we do for issues such as electricity shortage or supporting bafana bafana when they’re playing a game. People feel like this is not their issue to deal with because they think its something happening so far from them but they;d be surprised to see how many people they know have actually been raped or sexually abused in some way. It happens and people need to speak up to put these people away to hopefully save a child.

  • Pearl

    South Africa might be the rape capital of the world but its not all bad. I should know, I was born and bred in SA and practically still live there. I hate the fact that tourists always check stats and whatnots about SA before they come visit. Its like now you guys are tryna prepare yourselves from being mugged, killed and maybe even raped. Although that’s a good thing, I don’t want you guys to have a sour taste in y’alls mouths when SA is mentioned. SA is a beautiful country that happens to be inhabited by dirty, misled people and I’m sure that sometime in the future, it will become a better country… soon as the government stops favouring these rapists and thieves.

  • Lloyd

    “If there’s any lingering doubt about the rampant evil in SA’s culture- 5 grown men can walk off with 2 toddlers aged 2 & 3.. and literally GANG-RAPED THEM TO DEATH!! Leaving their broken bodies in an open public toilet. But every country has it’s problems, hey?
    World, wake up! This behaviour has flourished while the community & the denialists turn a blind eye.
    But “they’re not evil, apartheid made them do it!’
    “These rapists aren’t monsters.. they’re the victims of socioeconomic challenges.”
    The liberalist who help create these demons, actually want us to empathise!
    The rainbw-nation MYTH-media & apologists actually want these savages to be exempt f ALL responsibility
    for their own actons.
    Its mid-October 2013, this actually happened.. in South Afrca- it happens EVERY day!
    If you don’t believe it, bring your daughters out here.. and risk their lives..
    Yeah- I thought not..

    • Shannon

      I am so glad someone finally posted a comment like this! Thank you!
      People need to open their eyes and see what is going on! From Brand new babies through to old and wise ladies and men, they are raped, beaten and left for dead and the rapists walk free to do it again.
      South Africa is beautiful (in some parts) on the outside but rotten on the inside… Corrupted Government and Security, and so many turn the other cheek…

      Thank You!

  • Emy

    I love that you posted this. I read a lot of travel blogs and a lot of them hate to discuss the negative things going on in the country and won’t even discuss things like safety concerns-instead they tell you to ignore it and give it a shot to look at this or that. It’s a huge problem that can’t be ignored especially in areas like Dubai where it’s happening to tourists.

  • Shannon

    I cannot thank you enough for sharing this!
    My Husband and I were both born in South Africa and have recently moved to another Country as the dangers of living there are continually rising.
    We feared for our lives, our families lives and the lives of our future children.

    South Africa is the Rape Capital. End of discussion. I see comments on here of people trying to Glorify The country and that right there is the problem. So many people in South Africa say, “It’s not the worst Country in the world!” or “People exaggerate everything!”. No! Nothing is exaggerated and people need to realise this! In order to fix something you need to realise it’s broken, you need to pull together and help! Not try and defend it, try make it out as if it’s all okay. It’s not!
    There is no CONSEQUENCES for Rape! Rapists are not dealt with correctly. There is no sentence for it, most of the time it doesn’t even reach the courts. The Violence is Horrific! Murders, Assaults and Rapes.
    Every single person in my family has been broken into. My Grandfather was shot at, my husband had a gun pointed at his head when he was 10 YEARS OLD! My next door neighbour was an old man who was beaten half to death when they broke into his house… and we lived in a “safe” boomed off area. Police are corrupted, (I am not saying all, but most!) there have been reports of women being raped inside the back of police vans by the POLICE! As a women, after 11 o’clock at night, if you are driving alone with with other women you DONT NOT STOP when asked to pull over by the police!! You put on your hazard lights and drive to the nearest police station.

    Above I have listed a very small amount of what I have seen and heard. Be it from newspapers, friends and family or with my own eyes.
    There is a problem and people need to realise this. South Africa might not be rated “THE WORST” but it is most definitely unsafe and uncared for~ Things need to change! People need to OPEN THEIR EYES!!

    Thank you for joining hands with those who care and want to see change~

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