SAVANNAH PLASKITT

A hundred and ten cases of rape a day‚ or 4.58 every hour were reported in South Africa between 1 April and 31 December 2016, according to statistics released in March by police minister Nathi Nhleko and acting commissioner Khomotso Phahlane in Parliament.

Although the amount of rape cases reported during 2016 has decreased compared with the same period in 2015, the Institute for Security Studies believes that this is not a positive sign, mentioning in an AfricaCheck.org article titled “Factsheet: South Africa’s 2015/16 crime statistics”, “We are deeply concerned about the decrease of 3.2% in sexual offences. Research shows that this crime is under-reported and a decrease suggests that fewer people are reporting sexual offences.”

Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust explains on their website some of the reasons many cases of rape go unreported. The reasons include “fear of retaliation or intimidation by the perpetrator, the personal humiliation of being exposed as a victim of rape in a community, the extreme suffering that goes hand in hand with rape as a psychological trauma and the fact that the offender is often known to the victim and frequently a member of the victim’s family.” Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust also said that “these factors are compounded by the stigma associated with rape, and many people in our society subscribe to myths and stereotypes about rape. Most rape myths lay the blame or responsibility at the door of the victim, by suggesting that her behaviour somehow led the rapist to rape her.”

Victim-blaming, or implying that the victim “was asking for it” continues to further complicate and impair the reporting of rape. In 2016, Our Watch, an Australian organisation aiming to prevent violence against women and children, conducted a survey on 600 young Australians and found that “37 per cent of young people agree it’s hard to respect a woman when she’s drunk, while 27 per cent believe it is hard to respect a woman wearing revealing clothing. More than half think it’s “up to the girl to make it very clear if she doesn’t want to have sex,” and one in 10 believe a woman who is drunk, affected by drugs or wearing revealing clothing is at least partially responsible for unwanted sex.”

Comedian Alice Brine shared an analogy explaining the absurdity of victim blaming on her Facebook page saying, “I’m [going to] start going home with random very drunk guys and stealing all of their [possessions]. Everything they own. It won’t be my fault though… they were drunk. They should have known better. I’ll get away with it 90% of the time but then when one brave man takes me to court over it, I’ll argue that I wasn’t sure if he meant it when he said ‘no don’t steal my Audi.’” Explaining the post to Buzzfeed, Brine said, “If you can get your head around not stealing a car parked outside your house, then you can get your head around not stealing a woman’s body just because she’s sitting on your bed.”

South Africa has a broad definition of rape. The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) 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 definition includes, among others, rape, sexual assault, incest, bestiality, statutory rape and sexual grooming of children. Because of the broad definition, if rape statistics increase or decrease it becomes difficult to pinpoint the exact area driving the change.

In 2016 UP launched its #SpeakOutUP campaign to raise awareness about sexual assault. UP is also in the process of revising its discrimination and harassment policies to “create one umbrella policy.” UP currently has a code of conduct dealing with sexual harassment which says, “Sexual harassment is unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that violates the rights of an employee or student and constitutes a barrier to equity in the workplace or within the university community, including rape and indecent assault.”

Image: Michael Ridge

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