A recent BBC report carried the results of an anonymous survey by South Africa’s Medical Research Council which found that one in four men across racial groups admitted to raping a woman. The study also found that 73% of those who admitted rape said they had carried out their first assault before the age of 20. Almost half who said they had carried out a rape had done so more than once.
The figures are so shocking as to be hard to believe. You hope they’re exaggerated, and yet why would they be? Why would a man anonymously lie about such a heinous act? So we must contend with this reality. A reality that is difficult to comment on or analyze, particularly for someone who doesn’t begin to understand South African culture intimately enough to even attempt to place these figures into context.
So I put these alarming statistics out there, then, simply because they are stark reminders of the realities of the sexual landscape in South Africa, blighted by violence and shaped by a desire for power. Because these statistics make a mockery of HIV/AIDS prevention efforts focussed on “abstaining”, “being faithful” or “wearing condoms”. Yeah, right. Because they tell us how important it is to talk plainly with young people about sex rather than just teaching them about HIV/AIDS or STDs. Because these statistics dare us to screw up the courage to talk with men, young men, about sex, even though we keep pinning our hopes for change on women.
The truth is that I put these figures out there simply because it felt impossible to hold their horror within.