For the past couple of weeks the issue of rape has been prominent in the media. The case of Anene Booysen, who was brutally raped and killed earlier this month, has angered many South Africans. People have started to talk about ways to prevent rape and one of the most popular suggestions has been education. Others look to restructuring the police force to solve the problem. But what spurs a person to act so violently towards another, and are these viable solutions?

The Daily Maverick reported last week Tuesday that Professor Machel Jewkes, a gender expert at the Media Research Council, said, “The way for South Africa to beat rape lies in the way boys are brought up to be men.” According to Prof. Jewkes, South African men “generally do not see rape as a criminal activity that can lead them to prison. The majority of them think that if you want to have sex with a woman, you can have it, even if a woman does not want to.” Jewkes said that this mentality is common among South Africans and people’s thinking needs to be changed from a very young age.

The problem with this approach is that it considers rape as a sexual act only. Marcia Cohen and Sherrie McKenna wrote a report on the matter called “Rape: Psychology, Prevention and Impact” for the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute. In the report, they state that in the last 20 years, psychologists and sociologists have rejected the myth that rape is a sexual act. One of the problems that arises from this view of rape is that the crime is often blamed on the victims. The victim’s motives, choice of clothing and actions then come under the scrutiny of the law, family and friends, and their credibility and private life may be questioned and made public. McKenna and Cohen believe that this could be one of the reasons why rape is one of the highest underreported crimes. However, the report states that psychologists and sociologists have now found that “rape is a crime of violence, often regarded by the woman as a life-threatening act in which fear and humiliation are her dominant emotions. Sexual desire is less a motivation for the man than violent aggression.”

Academic, human rights and gender activist Rhoda Kadalie has also commented on the violent nature of men and its link to women abuse. Times Live reported that Kadalie said the high rates of unemployment and poverty would lead men to use women as “shock absorbers for their frustrations and emasculation”.

Similarly, the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation released a report in 2008 that stated that social and economic changes, along with other factors, could “contribute to a pervasive sense of insecurity among men, which is likely to manifest, and may feed into, sexual violence in different ways”.

Pierre de Vos wrote in the Daily Maverick last week that, “We must take steps that would reduce the prevalence of sexual violence in our society.” He suggests that a comprehensive educational drive needs to be established to help citizens analyse, critique and ultimately reject the rape culture we live in. De Vos believes that South Africans focus too closely on rape and need to take a look at sexual violence as a whole. However, it is difficult to determine whether education will be able to solve violent tendencies in people. If a person is violent in their nature, it is probably linked to other circumstances that they have either grown up with or lived with for a very long time. Although education could be used to help these people unlearn violent habits, more is needed than time in a classroom.

Any sexual offence needs to be taken seriously by the general public and government. De Vos suggests that the solution to this problem lies in basic and tertiary education. “Every institute of higher learning must be rushing to introduce a compulsory first-year course for all students, teaching them about how sex, gender, race, sexual orientation, class and disability are deployed by dominant groups to assert their power over (and to continue their subjugation of) non-dominant groups,” he said. According to De Vos, education can break down stereotypes and attitudes of superiority which could lead to forcing subordination on disempowered groups.

The other prominent solution brought to the public these past few weeks is the call for the help of government and the criminal justice system.

Last week Wednesday, the Daily Maverick reported that the police ministry has called back specialised police units to deal with violent and sexual crimes as an attempt to deal with the social problem. The ministry also told Crimeline that, “Priority is now placed on fighting crime against women, children and the elderly.” In addition to this, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe said that a task team has proposed reinstating specialised sexual offences courts and that they are looking into what resources will be needed to do so. Kadalie has similarly called for commissioners to sit in magistrate’s courts to report on how rape cases were processed in the criminal justice process. “They should monitor police stations to see if victims are treated with dignity … they should ensure that the number of convictions is improved upon annually and they should insist on sexual offences courts.” She added that they should cooperate with NGOs working for teachers and principals to encourage the inclusion of sex education and reproductive health in the curriculum.

The issue of rape is a complicated one and this article does not allow for it to be discussed fully. At best, perhaps, it can question popular beliefs about the psychology of rape. What truly drives people to commit an act that violates another human being? Once people try to understand this question, proper procedures can be implemented to prevent the crime.

Next week Perdeby will be looking into students’ opinions on the matter. Why do you think people rape? And what could be a possible solution to the problem? Send in your answers to

Image: Eleanor Harding

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