GUIDE: Rape statistics in South Africa

South Africa is notorious for its levels of rape. But the true extent of the problem is unknown. This guide looks at the limited data available.

As one of South Africa’s most pressing problems, rape levels in the country gets discussed and reported on often. And as a result, many of the statistics used cross our desks here at Africa Check.

These statistics often suffer from accuracy problems.

They’re either very old (it’s highly unlikely that a 20-year-old statistic is still valid!) or they have become part of an echo chamber where the more a statistic is reported and repeated the more people accept it as true.

Some take on a life of their own as flat earth news: being so entrenched in the media and everyday use that it becomes heresy to say it is inaccurate.

This guide presents what we do and don’t know about rape in South Africa.

Legal definition post 2007

The crime of rape in South Africa is defined by Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act 32 of 2007. It falls under the broad category of sexual offences, which includes sexual assault, incest, bestiality and flashing, among other crimes.

South Africa’s legal definition of rape is very broad. The act states that “any person (‘A’) who unlawfully and intentionally commits an act of sexual penetration with a complainant (‘B’), without the consent of B, is guilty of the offence of rape”. This includes the oral, anal or vaginal penetration of a person 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.

Prior to 16 December 2007, the definition was much more limited: “the (a) intentional (b) unlawful (c) sexual intercourse with a woman (d) without her consent”. This means that rape statistics from before this date only referred to the vaginal rape of women by a man.

Because of this change, rape statistics from before 2008/09 should not be directly compared to statistics released after this date.

Number of rapes reported to the police

The South African Police Service used to publish crime statistics only once a year. This is set to change though, with the minister in the presidency recently announcing that in future it will be released every three months.

Statistics of rapes reported to the police are included in the broad array of sexual offences. Although rape makes up the majority of cases, this category cannot be used in place of disaggregated rape statistics.

Year Reported rapes
2008/9 46,647
2009/10 48,259
2010/11 48,158
2011/12 47,069
2012/13 48,408
2013/14 45,349
2014/15 43,195
2015/16 42,596

(Source: South African Police Service analysis of the 2014/15 national crime statistics)

Reported rape rate

The rape rate refers to the number of reported rapes which occur per 100,000 people. So, for example, if 43,195 rapes were reported in South Africa in 2014/15, it means that for every 100,000 people in the country there were 80 rapes reported.

A rape rate (and crime rates in general) are useful for comparing changes over time, as they allow you to make fair comparisons between different population sizes. This is because – generally – the number of crimes committed will rise as a population increases. The rape rate allows us to see whether rape has increased or decreased in relation to the size of the population.

Africa Check requested official data on annual reported rape rates from the South African Police Service on 3 June 2016. At the time of publishing this guide they had not provided the data, despite indicating that they would.

Without the official data, we have calculated South Africa’s annual rape rates from 2008/09 to 2014/15 using Statistics South Africa’s mid-year population estimates. This guide will be updated if new information is provided by the police.

Year Reported rape rate
2008/9 95
2009/10 96
2010/11 95
2011/12 91
2012/13 92
2013/14 85
2014/15 80
2015/16 77

Percentage of people raped

Unfortunately, there is no recent, nationally representative study on the percentage of people in South Africa that have been raped. The only available data – some of which is very dated or regional – looks at the percentage of women that have been raped.

Study Finding Notes
The Western Cape Gender Based Violence Indicators Study (2014) 7% of women reported non-partner rape. The study is not nationally representative. It was only conducted in South Africa’s Western Cape province.
The Gauteng Gender Based Violence Indicators Project (2010) 25.3% of women had an experience of being raped by a “man, whether a husband or boyfriend, family member, stranger or acquaintance”.18% of women experienced “intimate partner rape on one or more occasions”. The study is not nationally representative. It was only conducted in South Africa’s Gauteng province.The data is now six years old.
Violence against women in three South African provinces (1999) 4.5% of respondents in the Eastern Cape, 7.2% of respondents in Mpumalanga and 4.8% of respondents in Limpopo reported “being forced or persuaded to have sex against [their] will” by being threatened, held down or hurt in some way. The study is not nationally representative. It was conducted in the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and the Limpopo (then the Northern Province).The data is outdated.
South Africa’s Demographic and Health Survey (1998) 7% of women aged 15 to 49 had been “forced or persuaded” to have sex against their will by a sexual partner.

4.4% of women  aged 15 to 49 had been “forced to have sex” in their lifetime.

The study was nationally representative but only for women aged 15 to 49.The data is old and is not reflective of the current situation in South Africa.

Perpetrators

There is little information of how many people commit rape in South Africa. Data from two studies – which looked at male perpetrators – is presented below.

Study Finding Note
The Western Cape Gender Based Violence Indicators Study (2014) 15% of men reported committing non-partner rape. The study is not nationally representative. It was only conducted in South Africa’s Western Cape province.
The Gauteng Gender Based Violence Indicators Project (2010) 37.4% of men admitted to raping a woman.31% of men disclosed having raped a woman who was not a partner.

18.2% of men disclosed raping an intimate partner.

 

6.9% of men disclosed engaging in gang rape.

The study is not nationally representative. It was conducted in South Africa’s Gauteng province.
Understanding
men’s health and
Use of violence:
interface of rape and HIV
in South Africa (2009)
27.6% of the men interviewed disclosed raping a woman or girl

4.6% of men had committed a rape in the last year

This study is not nationally representative. It was conducted in three districts in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu Natal Provinces.

Percentage of rapes reported to the police

Crime statistics can reveal how many rapes are reported to the police, but they don’t tell us how many are committed. Very few studies have been conducted into the true extent of rape in South Africa.

Without recent, nationally representative data it is impossible to estimate how many people are raped each year. Two studies provide limited insight into the share of rapes that are reported to the police.

Study Finding Note
The Gauteng Gender Based Violence Indicators Project (2010) 3.9% of women who had been raped (by either a partner or non-partner) had reported it to the police.

2.1% of women raped by an intimate partner had reported the crime to the police.

 

7.8% of women raped by a stranger or acquaintance had reported the incident to the police.

The study is not nationally representative. It was conducted in South Africa’s Gauteng province.
South Africa’s Demographic and Health Survey (1998) 15.2% of women aged 15 to 49 who had been forced to have sex had “sought help from the police”. The study was nationally representative but only for women aged 15 to 49.The data is old and is not reflective of the current situation in South Africa.

Child rape

The police are able to provide data on rapes perpetrated against children upon request. To date, there has not been a nationally representative study on the reporting rate of child rape.  

Year Reported child rapes (younger than 18)
2011/12 21,128
2012/13 20,702
2013/14 18,524
2014/15
2015/16 15,790

Source: South African Police Service

Note: The figures for 2012/13, 2013/14 and 2015/16 were provided to Africa Check by the South African Police Service.

Guilty verdicts

South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority publishes conviction rates for the broad categories of sexual offences. However, despite requests, it does not provide a disaggregated conviction rate for rape.

Without this data, it is impossible to say which percentage of rape cases end in a conviction. It should be noted though that conviction rates are not a reliable measure of the success of the justice system.

Incorrect claims about rape in South Africa

This guide has detailed the very limited data on rape in South Africa that you can share. However, here are four “facts” that you shouldn’t share:

A rape is reported every 4 minutes

This claim was made by South Africa’s Talk Radio 702 as part of a “stop rape” campaign. The station played a beep every four minutes to signify a reported rape. If this claim were correct it would mean that around 131,000 rapes are reported to police every year. According to the latest crime statistics, 43,195 rapes were reported in 2014/15.

United Nation statistics show a rape occurs every 26 seconds in South Africa

UK news channel Sky News cited the statistic when reporting on the levels of rape in South Africa in 2016. However, the statistic is nearly 20 years old and was based on an estimated – not researched – reporting rate. Due to a lack of research, the number of rapes committed each year in South Africa cannot be accurately estimated.

South Africa is the “rape capital of the world”

The internet is littered with this claim but it is meaningless. South Africa has very high levels of reported rape. However, differing definitions of the crime, different methods of recording incidents of rape and different levels of under-reporting of rape and sexual violence of all sorts make such international comparisons impossible.

South African women not more likely to be raped than to learn how to read

This claim dates back to 2002 and has been cited by a variety of news organisations and websites including the SABC and News24, The Guardian and Cosmopolitan UK. However, experts have described the statement as a “statistical horror”. The comparison is invalid and the available (although dated) data does not support the claim.

Is there any data that you think should be added to this guide? Leave us a comment below.

 

Additional resources

3,600 panties for 3,600 rapes per day in SA? Everything that’s wrong with this stat

FACTSHEET: South Africa’s 2014/15 assault and sexual crime statistics (2015)

Will one in three women in SA be raped? Blow the Whistle wrong again (2015)

British paper mangles SA rape statistics (2015)

Will 74,400 women be raped this August in South Africa? (2014)