Silence is the Enemy: 1 in 4 South African men have committed rape


a ten year old rape victim from the Congo
photo by Endre Vestvik

Almost a month ago, a number of bloggers launched Silence is the Enemy, a blog initiative against sexual violence. Since then, we've seen a number of thoughtful and provocative conversations throughout the blogosphere, trying to pinpoint the factors, like war, that can create a social climate where, tragically, rape is considered normal.

For example, consider this interview with Dumisani Rebombo, a South African man who sought forgiveness from the woman he gang-raped as a teenager:

A friend and my cousin pressured me to prove that I was man enough, by taking part in the rape of a teenage girl in the village.

This was termed "straightening her up", since she did not want to go out with any of the local boys.

I succumbed to this daily pressure and on the day of the incident, when they saw me trembling with fear, they ordered me to take marijuana and beer to defeat my fears.

I did just that and the two of us [my friend and I] proceeded to rape the girl. . . .

If you asked me: "What motivates so many men in South Africa to engage in un-consensual sex?" I would say that it is the machismo feelings and beliefs, coupled with patriarchal processes and tendencies."

Rebombo recently found the woman he raped, and she forgave him, but here's the most chilling part: the woman had been raped twice more since then. Imagine a society in which women are gang-raped repeatedly during their lives, and don't dare ask for help or seek justice. There is something very, very wrong with this situation.

According to a recent study, a quarter of South African men have committed rape:

South Africans received a horrifying measure of just how bad their country's rape crisis is with the release this week of a study in which more than a quarter of men admitted to having raped, and 46% of those said that they had raped more than once.

The study, conducted by South Africa's Medical Research Council, reveals a deeply rooted culture of violence against women, in which men rape in order to feel powerful, and do so with impunity, believing that their superiority entitles them to vent their frustrations on women and children. The men most likely to rape, the researchers found, were not the poorest, but those who had attained some level of education and income. (source)

It is estimated that half a million rapes occur annually in South Africa. In the MRC study, 8% of the men who admitted committing rape had raped more than ten women or girls. And overall, the men were overwhelmingly young themselves when they committed their first sexual crime:10% were under ten years old when they first raped.

How can we fix attitudes so deeply entrenched - in a society where the more educated, well-off men were more likely to commit rape, men were pressured into committing rape when they were mere children themselves, and a significant percentage of the male population are serial rapists? I don't know. I wish I did. But I hope we can start by learning more about the problem and contributing to the advocacy groups I describe in this post.

Learn more about the Silence is the Enemy from Sheril at the Intersection, join our Facebook group, and see the complete list of participating bloggers at our new beta site,

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It is very easy for us to shut our imaginations to the fear and pain these women and girls live with every day. I will continue to pay attention. Thank you for reminding us.

It's shocking to realise your country has this wonderful constitution which protects women's rights, but in reality there isn't a proper infrastructure to implement it (many men who rape hardly go to jail)and the dominant African culture(which is very partriarchally motivated) doesn't support it either, so a lot of men think it is ok to rape, because it proves their dominance. I just hope through more media exposure and studies such as these which cry out against it as well as popular pop-culture which bans/disapproves of such behaviour the prevailing culture will be influenced in a positive way towards respect of women as intelligent and equal citizens.

By Appalled South… (not verified) on 28 Jun 2009 #permalink