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Sexual Assault in South Africa

South Africa is a country located on the southernmost region of the African continent known for its biodiversity and ecosystem. Not only is it known for its diversity, but it is also known for its extensive rates of sexual assault. Sexual assault has been a lingering trend for South Africa which has had a compelling sense of poignance and has imbued trauma and agony beyond any healthy ability. It has left a mark on more than half the populations’ mental and physical health. A survey conducted by an all-inclusive study “Rape in South Africa” determined that an approximate of 2.7% of women ranging from 16 years or older have been sexually assaulted in any given manner from 2000. More than 37.4% of men have admitted to sexually assaulting and/or raping a woman. 3.5% of men in South Africa have been forced to engage in sexual intercourse against their will for research purposes for a medical survey. Much to our dismay, children and infants in South Africa have been vulnerable to sexual assault, even to this day they are still prone to any form of sexual assault and even as far as rape. Majority of South Africa’s population has faced sexual assault irrespective of what their age and/or gender is.

How and why does sexual assault occur so often in South Africa?

Before discussing the question, we need to know what sexual assault is. Sexual assault is the

act of inflicting any manner of sexual activity without the other person’s consent. Having said

that, some responsible factors for sexual assault are:

Myths. Unfeasible myths have been known to have a tendency to stray around South Africa and gullibility gets the best of the population and they end up believing them. Now, you’re probably wondering how a myth can lead to inclining rates of sexual assault, here’s why:

  • It is believed in South African culture that a man engaging in sexual intercourse with a virgin woman will allow them to dispose of HIV/AIDS. HIV is an STD (sexually transmitted disease) which leads to AIDS if left untreated.

  • South Africa is one of the leading countries for sexually transmitted diseases, the primary one being HIV/AIDS. This is due to this disease being spread by vaginal fluids and semen, most of the time as a result of sexual assault and sexual transmission.

  • There’s a huge probability that a woman’s assaulter may be HIV positive and the motive behind the initial attack was in respect to the myth. This myth has many names to it but it is most commonly known as the “Virgin cleansing myth”.

Another contributing factor is a phenomena known as corrective rape. Due to the widespread margin of homophobia, the prevalence of discrimination towards the LGBTQIA+ community leads to many sexual assault cases and has created an entire derogatory concept, mentioned earlier, corrective rape.

Corrective rape is forcing sexual intercourse on a person who is a member of the LGBTQIA+

community in order to convert them into heterosexuality. 1 in 10 lesbian women have been

raped for conversion purposes. 10% of lesbian women in South Africa are known to have an

HIV infection or any form of an STD for that matter with corrective rape being the leading cause.

In the past 15 years, there have been more than 30 murders linked as a hate crime towards

lesbianism and an average of 10 lesbian women get raped per week. Many acts of sexual assault and gang-rapes have been committed due to this conversion act which has led to mental and physical trauma amongst the LGBTQIA+ community. Corrective rape most commonly occurs in lesbians, but gay men have also been victims of corrective rape

in an attempt to induce heterosexuality. Although illegal, it can often be overlooked in countries where it is common practice.


Patriarchy is a social system wherein men hold absolute authority and women are prohibited

from having the same dominance. South Africa is a typical patriarchal society where men are seen as superior and women are seen as inferior. South African culture depicts patriarchy as a demand for a woman’s fertility and sexuality.

This inherit thought process causes a hindrance which leads to laws and certain policies where women are forced to do something they don’t want to, such as forced sexual intercourse without the woman’s consent, also known as sexual assault and rape.

South Africa’s patriarchal system raises many grave concerns in a woman’s well being and

safety in regards to sexual assault. Men have the jurisdiction to control women in private

spheres to their advantage. As women are seen as inferior, this automatically gives men more

influence and hence puts them in a position where the woman is completely defenseless.

Legal Action ?

The South African legal system states that children under the age of 12 are ineligible to give

consent, while the age for consent is 17. This somewhat conveniently makes children liable to sexual assault and rape. If a child was to be sexually assaulted and there was a case filed, it would have been left unattended as the older person in the scenario could always use that the child is at a legal age of consent as an argument, and due to the age difference- typically the elder one is always to be believed. The patriarchal background of South African society also holds responsibility as men are socially seen superior which would put any girl child in a difficult and suffocating position if all factors of a sexual assault case actually being deemed as guilty are taken into consideration- although this is not unique to South Africa.

In September of 2019, President Cyril Ramaphosa, the current president of South Africa, announced rape to be punishable by death during an emergency session of the South African Parliament. Many district surgeons were hired by the State to conduct sexual assault medical examinations.There were many surgeons who took interest in sexual assault cases and were driven to examine sexual assault patients, but contrary to them were subjective and crass surgeons who took disinterest in sexual assault cases and were often labelled to be insensitive by patients. The overall execution and conduction of the examinations turned out to be poor and unsuccessful in nature.

Despite the South African legal system making it evident that sexual assault of any form would not be condoned, sexual assault rates have kept on inclining. Any woman, man or child who had faced sexual assault and filed assault charges only had 1 in 13 chance to see their assaulter convicted. Most sexual assault cases taken to court were generally withdrawn and a minority actually passed as a guilty verdict. Unfortunately, sexual assault rates in South Africa are still inclining to this day and in spite of legal action being taken, rarely any sexual assault cases get the justice they deserve. Conviction of assaulters and taking proper legal action is an area which South Africa lacks in resulting in unwanted sexual assault inclination rates.


Aarna Mishra


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