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Highest in the world? Social media post gets South Africa's rape rate wrong

“South Africa has the highest rape rate in the world of 132.4,” reads a tweet posted on 12 January 2021.

“Approximately 66,196 incidents in per 100,000 people,” it adds. The claim has attracted more than 900 likes and 300 retweets. The user also posted it on Instagram.

But these figures seem excessive, even for a country with a high rate of gender-based violence. Here’s what the latest data shows. 

 

rape incorrect

 

Under 43,000 incidents of rape in 2019/2020

South Africa’s legal definition of rape is broad. It includes the oral, anal or vaginal penetration of a person (male or female) with a genital organ; anal or vaginal penetration with any object; and the penetration of a person’s mouth with the genital organs of an animal.

The “rape rate” – the number of reported rapes for each 100,000 people – is useful for comparing changes over time, as it allows fair comparisons between different population sizes.

The South African Police Service recorded 42,289 rapes in 2019/20, up from 41,583 in 2018/19. This works out to 72.1 rapes per 100,000 people, nearly half the rate claimed in the tweet

But South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies has warned that police rape statistics should not been seen as an “accurate measure of either the extent or trend of this crime”. There is no recent and nationally representative estimate of how many people are raped in South Africa each year.

International comparison impossible

What about the claim that South Africa has the highest rape rate in the world? This statement is also unsupported.

Comparisons of rape rates are hampered by a number of issues, as the United Nations notes. Different definitions of rape, varying methods of recording incidents of rape and unknown levels of under-reporting make international comparisons impossible.

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