“South Africa has the highest rape rate in the world of 132.4,” reads a tweet posted on 12 January 2021.
But these figures seem excessive, even for a country with a high rate of gender-based violence. Here’s what the latest data shows.
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.
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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