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The Untold Truth: The Silent Pain of South Africa’s Children
“A female born in South Africa has a greater chance of being raped in her lifetime than learning how to read” (Dempster). In South Africa, thousands of children and babies are left traumatized after being raped, often without the rapist ever being convicted (Dempster). In the dictionary, rape is defined as “the unlawful compelling of a woman through physical force or duress to have sexual intercourse,” (Dictionary.Com). Rape is present everywhere, but is especially rampant in South Africa due to “The Virgin Myth” and “Just Can’t Say No” (Meier). Although several non-profits and government programs are trying to curb child rape in South Africa, it is an overwhelming problem caused by the lack of development in certain social and cultural values.
The rate of child rape is hazardously high in South Africa. When South Africa became a democracy in 1994, there was an average of 18,801 cases of rape per year. The average amount of rape cases in 2001 was 24,892 (Meier). The longer South Africa remained a democracy, the more rape cases there have been. Although this statistic shows that there certainly have been more cases of rape since the beginning of the democracy, one could also interpret this to mean more rape cases have been reported. Fifty-two thousand rapes were reported in 2000, as found by the Institute of Race Relations, and 40% of those raped were under the age of 18 (Meier). Therefore, it is almost as likely for a child to be raped in South Africa as a woman. Rape itself is frightening but the prospect that 40% of rape victims are children is horrifying. In South Africa, girls and women have a higher chance of being raped than learning how to read (Dempster).
In recent child rape cases, the characteristics have been very similar. The average victim of rape is a female infant anywhere from 5 months to 2 years old (Early-Taylor). The rapists are anywhere from 12 years old to above 50 years old (Early-Taylor). The rape occurs when an infant is left alone, and the men seize the opportunity to "rid" themselves of AIDs (Early-Taylor). In the average case, the rape is not premeditated, meaning that the men acted on impulse (Early-Taylor). The infant victim's mother often knows the offenders (Early-Taylor). The mothers were often drunk when their child was raped (Early-Taylor). The mother was no more then 25 years old (Early-Taylor). The mothers of the children had no education, were unemployed, and single (Early-Taylor). The rapists also were unemployed or uneducated and suffered degrading socioeconomic circumstances (Early-Taylor). The offenders, like the mothers, were often drunk (Early-Taylor). Often times, the mother would leave their infant babies with the rapists to buy more alcohol (Early-Taylor). The rapes would then occur when the mother left to purchase the alcohol in the mother’s home (Early-Taylor). The mother’s action of leaving the infant alone can cause them to be charged with criminal activity, which sometimes is the reason why they may not report a rape case (Early-Taylor). Also, if the offenders were clinically assessed, you would find that they have multiple personality disorders and have sexually abused someone before (Early-Taylor). No matter how the drunk the offender was, they could have been able to realize the wrongfulness of their actions.
There are many different beliefs and theories about what has caused the issue of child rape in South Africa, but the two most widely agreed upon factors are two common beliefs known as “The Virgin Myth” and “Just Can’t Say No.” Sex is a subject in many South African families that is not open for discussion (Dempster). A belief deeply rooted in their culture is that men are entitled to sex with women whenever they feel like it. This may be the way that a rapist may justify their actions, this theory is what is classified as “Just Can’t Say No.” It is believed in South Africa that having sexual intercourse with a child virgin will cure a man of AIDs, known as “The Virgin Myth” (Dempster). Due to the fact that there is very little income for most families in South Africa, men with an STD have intercourse with a virgin child to try to rid themselves of AIDS. A survey in East London, South Africa, by the University of South Africa found that 18% of 498 workers believed that sex with a virgin could cure AIDS. In Gauteng, 32% of those interviewed believed this myth (Meier). Depending on where you are, the statistics differ; however many will agree that the myth is fixed into the beliefs of most South Africans and is connected to the high rates of child rape.
Action against the growing epidemic of child rape has and is being taken on all fronts, but as of yet, it is not enough. The South African government has recently given the equivalent of $5 million US dollars to the South African Justice Department in hopes of protecting women and children (Banda). Protecting the women and children who have been victims of rape is very important. Due to the lack of success in the judicial system when it comes to convicting the rapists, victims are often frightened and threatened by their attackers every day. Thoko Majokweni, the head of the Sexual Offences Unit for the South African Police, says that the $5 million, although a large amount of money, may not improve court performances or protect the families during the court processes (Banda). It has been very hard for officials to gauge how much money would be needed to help fix the problem. Therefore, many are skeptical that even $5 million may help. Thoko Majokweni also believes that whether or not the money is enough, at least it proves that the government is committed to addressing the problem (Banda). It may also mean that the government is ready to assist in decreasing the problem of child rape and rape overall. Rape Crisis is an organization that is helping rape victims through counseling and being advocates for the victims (Rape Crisis). Rape crisis is one of the biggest organizations and has helped hundred of victims through counseling and support. Furthermore, they have trained hundreds of volunteers so that they too can one day help a victim in need.
In South Africa, child rape is a problem that is blanketing the nation, caused by certain social and cultural values, and forcing science and technology to adapt quickly to the needs of the victims; the statistics are horrifying, the stories heartbreaking, and the action taken so far inadequate in comparison. More rapes have been reported the longer South Africa has remained a democracy (Meier). Few of the rapists in the cases have been convicted, and the victims have to endure threats from these men almost every day (Dempster). Most of the men who commit the crime of rape often do not think they are doing anything wrong (Dempster). If anything, they believe that by having sexual intercourse with a baby or a child will cure them of AIDs (Dempster). So far, the government has committed $5 million US dollars to help the judicial system in convicting the rapists, which is a small step in the right direction (Banda). In addition to these important efforts, a focus on education is vital: both regarding the origins of the social and cultural norms that have led to these atrocities, as well as a full disclosure to the international community. Perhaps then, and only then, true progress can be made.
Banda, Charles. “Government Moves to Stamp out Sexual Abuse.” News From Africa. N.p., 13 Jan. 2011. Web. 13 Jan. 2011.<http://www.newsfromafrica.org/?newsfromafrica/?articles/?art_2623.html>.
Crime and Misconduct Commision. “Paedophilia.” Crime and Misconduct Commision. MERK, 2007. Web. 16 Dec. 2010. <http://www.cmc.qld.gov.au/?asp/?index.asp?pgid=10752>.
Dempster, Carolyn. “Rape - Silent War on SA Women.” BBC. MMIII, 9 Apr. 2002. Web. 13 Dec. 2010. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/?2/?hi/?1909220.stm>.
Earl-Taylor, Mike. “HIV/?AIDS, the Stats, the Virgin Cure and Infant Rape .” Science in Africa. Merck, Apr. 2002. Web. 16 Dec. 2010. <http://www.scienceinafrica.co.za/?2002/?april/?virgin.htm>.
Meier, Eileen. “Child Rape in South Africa.” Medscape Today. Jannetti Publications, 6 Dec. 2002. Web. 14 Dec. 2010. <http://www.medscape.com/?viewarticle/?444213>.
Rape Crisis. “Rape Crisis.” RapeCrisis.org. Rape Crisis, 9 Jan. 2011. Web. 9 Jan. 2011. <http://www.rapecrisis.org.za>.
Shields, Rachel. “ South Africa’s Shame: the Rise of Child Rape.” The Independent . Independent Co UK, 16 May 2010. Web. 13 Dec. 2010. <http://www.independent.co.uk/?news/?world/?africa/?south-africas-shame-the-rise-of-child-rape-1974578.html>.