South Africa has high rates of gender-based violence. Startling facts and figures about sexual assault, rape and femicide are often used to highlight what some call the country’s “war on women”.
In March 2021, South Africa’s department of social development claimed that “someone is raped every 35 seconds”. This is according to statistics from the South African Police Service (SAPS), it said in a media advisory.
This figure equates to 876,000 rapes a year, 20 times higher than the number of rapes reported to the police in 2019/20.
What does the data show?
Africa Check contacted the department of social development to find out what police statistics they relied on. We did not receive a response but will update this report should they come back to us.
The police also did not respond to questions about the statistic.
Rape statistics are reported by the police as part of the sexual offences category. Also included in this group are statistics for compelled rape, sexual assault, incest, bestiality, statutory rape and the sexual grooming of children.
Between 1 April 2019 and 31 March 2020 42,289 rapes were reported to the police.
These figures are significantly lower than the department of social development claims. But we also know that not all rapes are reported.
No current national underreporting rape rate
Research on the underreporting of rape in South Africa is limited. The most recent study, conducted in Gauteng in 2010, estimated that just 3.9% of women who had been raped had reported it to the police. But these findings are now over 10 years old and are not nationally representative.
The last national estimate is from a study released in 2002, which estimated that only one in nine rapes (11.1%) were reported to the police.
Without a current national underreporting rape rate, it is difficult to calculate how many rapes are committed each year.
“It’s crucial to acknowledge the difficulty of producing perfect figures and to note the limitations of existing research,” Lisa Vetten, a gender-based violence researcher, told Africa Check.
It is important that the government shares recent, reliable and verifiable information on this important issue. Unsupported statistics don’t help the public understand the problem and they won’t aid government attempts to address it.