The “Soul City” Research Report
South Africa is reportedly the ‘rape capital’ of the world. According to the Crime Information Management Centre of the South African Police Services 52 160 cases of rape were reported in 1997. This reflects an increase of 10 000 cases since 1994. Unfortunately, according to POWA (People Opposed to Women Abuse) these alarming figures are only 2.8% of rapes that occur in South Africa annually. If 52 000 reported rape cases reflect only 2.8% of actual rapes, it means that actually more than one million rapes take place in South Africa annually.
Why are most rapes not reported to the police?
There are a number of factors that contribute to the low levels of cases reported to the police.
The stigmatisation of rape
Rape is one of the most traumatic experiences anyone can go through. Coupled with the natural reaction of blaming oneself for not ‘seeing it coming’ or preventing it from happening, society is quick to judge the character of a rape survivor and find every reason possible for blaming the survivor. For this reason most survivors prefer not to tell anyone about what happened to them.
The attitudes of the police
Although there are efforts to train police to be gender sensitive, there are countless reports of police insensitivity when a woman reports a rape case. Many police further traumatise the survivor with questions such as “Did you enjoy it?” or by just the indifferent way in which they deal with rape cases.
There are also widespread reports of police corruption and a widely held perception that in some cases police collude with perpetrators. This is hardly surprising taking into consideration reports of women who get raped by the police.
Survivor unfriendly services
According to a study conducted by the Centre for Peace Action, 54.8% of women wait up to 3 hours before being examined by a district surgeon. In 10.9l% of the cases, women wait for 7 hours or more. These long periods of waiting further traumatise the survivor and contribute to their reluctance to continue with the case. The report also indicates that in Johannesburg, most cases were reported at police stations with immediate access to medico –legal services as well trained and sensitive personnel. It is therefore evident that in cases where services are not available or women have to wait long hours, there will be a reluctance to report the case.
A rape survivor needs a lot of support to deal with the ordeal. Apart from legal services, survivors require psychological and medical support. The fact that these services are not located in one central place, means that a survivor will need to travel to various places to obtain help. This adds to the trauma they have experienced and a reluctant to follow through with the case.
The judicial system is not any helpful to rape survivors either. Apart from having to relive the ordeal, they are usually subjected to the worst humiliating cross-examination. Many survivors feel that perpetrators receive light sentences or acquitted because the courts do not treat rape as serious an offence as hijacking, for example.
Many rapes occur within relationships or with the perpetrator known to the survivor. This places enormous pressure on the survivor to the report the case. Firstly, the perpetrator may threaten the survivor if she reported the case. In the case of the rape happening within a relationship the situation is even more complex. The woman may want to report the case but the police may not believe her, claiming that it is a ‘family matter.’ Research proves that women have a difficulty in defining being forced to have sex within a relationship as rape because they are socialised into believing that it is their duty to have sex with their partners.
WHAT IS THE COMMUNITY TELLING US?
In order to inform Soul City of which messages to deal with regarding rape, the research department conducted focus group discussions with various communities. The purpose of the focus groups was to determine what the target population beliefs and attitudes were regarding rape. Soul City wanted to determine what audiences believed caused rape and what the possible solutions would be.
The focus groups revealed that there are a lot of rape incidents happening in communities. This seems to support research that suggests that the number of reported cases are a tip of the iceberg. Although communities agree that there are a lot of rape incidents that occur in their communities, they also offer excuses for why rape occurs.
This probably explains why communities are silent about rape and, except for when a small child has been raped, there is hardly any community outcry about rape.
The silence of the community also illustrates the complex factors that influence people’s attitudes regarding rape. The focus groups revealed a lot of contradictions regarding communities beliefs about rape. The excuses for rape given by both male and female participants seemed to outweigh whether or not they believed rape was wrong and that something needed to be done about it.
The definition of rape
There are a lot of contradictions regarding the definition of rape. Participants agree that rape is when a woman is forced into having sex but are also quick to point out that in some circumstances sex by force is permissible.
“rape is when you have forced her” (Adult Male group, Dennilton, Mpumalanga)
“…these people use us. You may go to your girlfriend’s house and not find her. The day you find her you force her to have sex with you even in the veld. In reality she cannot say you raped her….besides, a rapist is usually someone unknown, someone who lives in the veld.” (Adult Male group, Dennilton, Mpumalanga)
The quotes above illustrate two things: Rape is a crime committed by someone out there who we don’t know. Any forced sex that occurs within a relationship is either not rape or it is justifiable rape.
When asked what communities do when a woman is raped the following responses were given:
“the community should be concerned. They would like to know who is the suspect. They will also want to know the circumstances…it is because rape does not just happen…there must be some wound from a weapon.” (Adult Male group, Dennilton, Mpumalanga)
The woman is always to blame for rape
This belief is deeply entrenched in the minds of all participants. Both male and female participants believed that:
- Women cause rape by the way they dress.
“Also when you wear short clothes. Men are very sharp with women. The girls today dress so scantily and they are beautiful. They tempt these men.”
- Men rape because women do not satisfy them sexually.
“I want to follow up on the issue of the family man who rapes his own child. The problem is these women. She is your wife but she only wants to sleep with you only once a week…we men cannot live like that…you will end up raping your own child. These women really get us into trouble.”
“Just look at the case of the old lady who was raped by the boyfriend of her grandchild. The young man knocked at the door and asked for the girl. The old lady said she did not know where she was. The man said: ‘you will also do because what I want from her you also have. ’He held the old lady and raped her.”
Many women participants seem to blame themselves for not satisfying their partners sexually. This, the groups believed, caused the men to rape their partners or go out and rape someone else.
- Women who visit shebeens or walk alone at night ask to raped.
The groups all agreed that women who visit entertainment places without the company of their boyfriend or husbands asked to be raped
“a woman in a public place is public property. Anyone can sleep with her.”
“it is these women in shebeens.”
“me if I see a woman walking at night alone I’d want to see if she is really alive you know.”
When asked what Soul City should teach people about rape, most participants want Soul City to teach women how to dress properly, to behave properly or to suggest curfews for women. Some male participants suggested that women should not be seen around after 19h00.
Men have uncontrollable urges that have to be satisfied
All groups agree that men have sexual urges that need to be satisfied. This is especially so in cases where rape happens within a relationship. Men believe that once they are sexually aroused they need to have penetrative sex. It is therefore very difficult to talk of rape in a situation where the woman was responsive but refused to have sex thereafter.
“there’s this thing called imizwa (feelings).It happens that one can’t control his feelings with the way that girls dress these days…”
When asked if the same applies to rape cases of old women (80 years) one participant put it succinctly:
“it’s like you see a young girl in a mini skirt. You want to have her but you don’t get the chance. Then you turn around the corner and see an old lady then you just shove it in there.”
Money, alcohol and drugs play a major role
There is an overwhelming belief that either men rape after they have had alcohol or drugs. The drugs frequently mentioned are dagga and mandrax. Some men attributed their inability to control their sexual urges to alcohol and drugs.
This was a complex issue because some men claimed that on nights that they would like to pick up a woman in a shebeen they would not drink but observe women who did. Once these women became drunk or left for home they would coerce them into sex. Both male and female groups agreed that women who visited shebeens deserved to be raped.
Men feel used by women. They repeatedly describe how women in shebeens will “drink their money” and then refuse to sleep with them
“…she’s busy saying faka ibhiya sihamba sonke (just buy some beer and I’ll leave with you) and when my money runs out she turns against me and her friends call me inkukhu(chicken)”
There seems to be transactions taking place in hotels where women expect men to by the alcohol in exchange for sex. If a woman refuses to have sex, the man feels cheated in the transaction. He also fears being labelled weak.
Although not explicitly expressed, the groups implied that women should not choose to have fun independent of their partners. Men spoke of raping these “types” of women as a form of punishment for their perceived independence. These women also dress sexily and sometimes behaved in a way that the men perceived to be sensual. Men seemed to believe that this form of “deviant” behaviour needed to be corrected through punishment (rape). They often used this logic to even support gang rape.
It’s like if you take a woman in a shebeen and go and sleep with her. When your friends hear the sounds they also come to get their share.”
The belief that men cannot control their urges is so strong that they do not consider the dangers of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. Men claimed that when it came to satisfying their sexual urges, thoughts about sexually transmitted diseases were remote. At the moment when they engage in group sex, all that matters is to satisfy their sexual urges.
Love equals sex, therefore there is no rape in relationships
It is very evident in the research that in terms of sexuality men have uncontrollable sexual urges while women are asexual. Groups spoke about how culturally it is wrong for a woman to initiate a relationship with a man. Even when the man has done the initiating, a ‘good’ woman cannot agree to the proposal easily. She has to show some resistance so that she is not perceived as a ‘cheap’ woman.
Sex is also perceived as a duty. Men attach a lot of importance to their duty to give sex. The least they expect is a consenting or an ‘ever ready’ partner. They feel that if a woman initiates sex in a relationship it reflects negatively on their ability to satisfy the woman. They pressurise themselves to give as much sex as possible for fear of being regarded as ‘chickens.’
Women also believe that it is their duty to give sex. Although they are sometimes coerced into sex, they feel helpless to report it or to express it clearly to their partners. Women fear for their own safety because a woman who refuses to have sex with her partner is suspected of fooling around with other men. Men feel justified to beat up a woman who refuses to have sex.
Responses from young people suggest that a love proposal is a sex proposal. Young people do not believe that there is more to relationship than sex. They even suggest that women who are not ready to have sex can not have male friends or any form of relationships with males.
What these beliefs translate into is that there is very little communication about sex in relationships. When asked if they talk to their girlfriends about having sex, males responded that a girl who accepts an invitation to visit a boy’s home knows that she will get “it.” Some participants suggested that participants knew when it was the day for sex.
Another major issue was what the word NO! means. Within a context in which women are believed to be asexual and men give sex and nothing else happens in relationships other than sex anyway, no one understands what the word means. Women are not supposed to show that they want sex, so they have to show some resistance and men have to show force. This seems to be an acceptable sexual norm. The issue becomes at what point does the resistance stop to be part of the game but a way of showing that the woman does not want to have sex? What amount of force is the acceptable amount as far as the “game” goes? As what point is this use of force when a woman has clearly said no actually rape?
Men attempt to solve the NO! dilemma by suggesting that the woman’s body language should suggest that the word means “I don’t want to have sex with you.” They suggest that the woman must shout, kick and scream. However, research suggests that men often use weapons to coerce women into having sex. Women fear physical harm, hence they don’t kick and scream. It is also interesting that even in cases when a woman has clearly said no to sex she is still responsible for the man’s actions. If she gets raped if after saying NO!, it is because her no was not good enough.
Rape is about a lack of respect for women
Communities are aware that rape is wrong. They know that it is a criminal offence. However, within a context in which men believe they own women they feel justified in their actions. Like any property that they own, they may be aware that they are misusing it but don’t see the need to stop.
Rape is about power. Women’s rights scare men
Women were also targets of gang rape if they are perceived to be aloof. This suggests women who are outspoken, assertive and in control of their lives. Men rape them to show them their place. Men and women blamed women’s rights and political freedom for the rise of rape within their communities. They spoke about the past with nostalgia, claiming that previously rape did not occur because men practised poligamy and women didn’t behave like whites.
Men and women lack skills to communicate about sex in relationships
Men and women feel sex is a duty. There is no communication about sex. This creates fertile ground for rape to occur in relationships. It also shows the challenge in expecting women to negotiate for safe sex within relationships.
Rape is about instant gratification and entitlement
The Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation claim that in their experience working with survivors and perpetrators of rape, there seems to be an emerging pattern of an entitlement to instant gratification and release of sexual energies. It seems to be an explanation of why the age of rape survivors is dropping and why many cases of fathers sleeping with their own daughters are on the rise.
The report claims that youth who have raped claim that they did so out of boredom. The fact that they may have raped a six- year old does not bother them. It seems women and children fall prey of this sense of instant pleasure and gratification that blinds men from realising that what they are doing is wrong. A man who had raped his daughter claimed that he felt like sex and since his wife was at a night vigil he was entitled to the daughter. There seems to be a total lack of self-control in such cases. The participants in the focus groups referred to this lack of a sense of right and wrong as ill wind that is blowing within the communities. Women expressed this by saying that their men have turned into real dogs.
Rape happens within a context of lawlessness and corruption
In a study conducted by Rhodes University with rape convicts, 84%of felony rapists had prior convictions. The study defines felony rapists who operate alone or in a gang. They usually come from disrupted or broken families and exhibit early patterns of delinquency. The study also shows that they show little remorse for their actions. Participants also claim that police collude with perpetrators. Some claim that a perpetrator only needs R1000 for the police to destroy a rape docket.