February 7, 2013
In a country where 1 in 4 women is raped and where months-old babies and 94-year-old grandmothers are sexually assaulted, citizens are demanding action after a teenager was gang-raped, had her stomach sliced open, and was left for dead on a construction site last week.
The 17-year-old lived long enough to identify one of her attackers, a 22-year-old. Police arrested him and said Thursday that they have arrested a second suspect, aged 21. They promised more arrests soon.
“Kill them!” was one of the demands voiced on talk radio stations Thursday.
Every few months, this nation with the highest rate of rapes of babies and young girls in the world yells its outrage at a particularly brutal attack.
Last year, South Africans were shocked when village boys gang-raped a mentally ill 17-year-old with a mental age of 4. She was attacked by six boys, the youngest of whom was 10, in a crime that only came to light because the boys made a cell phone video of the rape and posted it on the Internet. It went viral.
Professor Rachel Jewkes, a doctor heading the Women’s Research Unit of South Africa‘s Medical Research Council, said 37 percent of surveyed men in South Africa’s most populated province of Gauteng said they had raped a woman or child, according to a study. Seventy-five percent of them first raped a teenager, she said.
“It’s a social disaster,” she said. The number of “men who try to feel better about their past by trying to make out that what they did wasn’t serious or wasn’t rape is obviously huge and must be a huge obstacle to getting anything done – from police making arrests to decisions in the courtroom by magistrates and so forth.”
The outcry over Saturday’s rape in Bredasdorp, a Western Cape town known for its giant protea flowers, led President Jacob Zuma to pledge Thursday “that government would never rest until the perpetrators and all those who rape and abuse women and children are meted with the maximum justice that the law allows.”
The maximum sentence for rape in South Africa is life in prison. The death sentence has been abolished.
Zuma himself was accused of rape by the HIV-positive, lesbian daughter of a close friend in 2005. Zuma said the sex was consensual and he was acquitted, but is unlikely to live down his comment in court that he had a shower afterward to cut the risk of acquiring AIDS.
In a study conducted by Jewkes in 2009, 62 percent of surveyed boys over age 11 said they believed that forcing someone to have sex was not an act of violence. One-third said girls enjoy being raped.