1 Geo. J. Gender & L. 789 (1999-2000)
Rape in South Africa

handle is hein.journals/grggenl1 and id is 983 raw text is: RAPE IN SOUTH AFRICA
South Africa is in a rape crisis.' The rate of reported rapes in the population is
fully double that of the United States, which is itself higher by many orders of
magnitude than other countries that compile national data on rape.' According to
statistics compiled by Interpol, an international organization coordinating police
cooperation in member states, more rapes are committed in South Africa per
capita than in any other country in the world.3
The reality is, however, that most women never report having been raped to the
police. Dependable numbers are hard to come by, but estimates of the total
number of rapes annually in South Africa, the overwhelming majority of which
* Assistant Professor, Villanova University School of Law. B.A., University of California at Santa
Cruz; J.D., Yale Law School; LL.M., Georgetown University Law Center. From June to August 1992,
two years before South Africa transformed from a repressive state into a constitutional democracy, I
researched rape and political detention in South Africa as a Visiting Scholar at the Institute of
Criminology at the University of Cape Town. A fellowship from the Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for
International Human Rights at Yale Law School and a Ford Foundation Fellowship in Public
International Law funded that research. I am indebted to those organizations for their financial support. I
would like to thank Penelope Andrews, Frank Cooper, Joanne Fedler, Desir6e Hansson, Nazareth
Pantaloni, Michael Reisman, and Diana E.H. Russell for their wisdom and encouragement. Polly Hayes
provided excellent research assistance.
1. I do not mean to exaggerate the problem of rape in South Africa. With its own widespread problems
of sexual violence, the United States is in a rape crisis as well. It is always difficult to communicate the
reality of sexual violence and avoid the risk of being misjudged sensationalistic. The stories I recount in
this article describe the horror faced by many women and girls who are sexually violated. They are hard
to read. However, it is important to recount their stories because these women and girls have little
opportunity to do so themselves.
2. Official police statistics from 1974 through 1983 for both countries indicate the trend. Per 100,000
women, the reported rape rate in the United States varies from a low of 52.4 to a high of 72.8. Per 100,000
women, the reported rape rate in South Africa varies from a low of 117.6 to a high of 131.5. S. J. Collings,
Rape in South Africa: Incidence, Patterns, and Trends, 22 Soc. WORK 27-28 (1986). As calculated from
these figures, the averages for the nine year period are as follows: United States, 62 reported rapes per
100,000 women; South Africa, 124 rapes per 100,000 women. The official South African reported rape
rate in 1998 was 104.1 per 100,000, compared to 34.4 per 100,000 in the United States. See Peter
Hawthorne, An Epidemic of Rapes, TIME, Nov. 1, 1999, at 59.
In considering the U.S.-South Africa comparison, it is important to realize that, [t]he United States
has a rape rate thirteen times higher than Britain's, nearly four times higher than Germany's and more
than twenty times higher than Japan's. E. Salzholz & E. Cliff, Women Under Assault: Sex Crimes
Finally Get the Nation's Attention, NEWSWEEK, July 16, 1990, at 23-24.
Rachel Swarns, South Africa in an Uphill Fight Against Crime, N.Y. TiMEs, May 15, 2000, at A10; Sylvia
Vollenhoven, South Africa Through Women's Eyes, Ms., Sept./Oct. 1993, at 12; Bob Simon, 60 Minutes:
Every 26 Seconds; South Africa Is Becoming the Rape Capital of the World (CBS television broadcast,
Feb. 1, 2000) [hereinafter Every 26 Seconds] (claiming that South Africa is the rape capital of the

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