As one of South Africa’s most pressing problems, rape levels in the country get discussed and reported on often. And as a result, many of the statistics used cross our desks here at Africa Check.
South African rape 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.
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|
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.
|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.|
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.
|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.|
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.|
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 on 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.
|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.|
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)|
Source: South African Police Service
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 each year. Furthermore, conviction rates are not a reliable measure of the success of the justice system.
A study conducted by the South African Medical Research Council’s gender and health research unit analysed a nationally representative sample of 3,952 rape cases opened by the South African police in 2012.
The researchers found that “an arrest was made in 2,283 (57%) cases and 2,579 (65%) were referred for prosecution. Prosecutors accepted 1,362 cases (34.4%) and these were enrolled for trial. Trials started in 731 (18.5%) cases”.
Only 340 of the original cases (8.6%) ended with a guilty verdict.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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