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article imageRape - Is it Becoming South Africa's ''National Sport''?

By Tobias Grauheding     May 30, 2001 in Technology
JOHANNESBURG - (dpa) - "There is a war being waged here against women and children," states Charlene Smith with an edge of bitterness in her voice.

The journalist from Johannesburg is one of the many victims of rape, the crime which toward the end of the 1990s catapulted South Africa to the top of the world list in crime statistics.

In 1997, the national Equal Rights Commission determined that every 26 seconds, a woman or child was being raped in South Africa.

And things are getting worse," Smith states. Each day the newspapers are filled with such reports, even though only the most spectacular ones - such as the rapes of a four-year-old child or of an 83-year-old woman - make the news.

In 1999, 42-year-old Charlene Smith became one of the estimated 1.6 million annual victims of rape. Since then, she has become one of the best-known activists in the country against this form of human degradation.

South African police estimated in 1997 that one out of every two among the country's 20 million women will become a victim of rape. The way things stand today, four years later, can only be guessed at, for there are no current statistics.

Since last year no further crime statistics have been reported, the official reason being that the country's office of statistics was being reorganized. But scarcely anyone believes this.

Smith says that the crime figures were so devastating that "the government feared for the loss of foreign investors and tourists".

In 1999, the number of children raped each month came to 1,300, but Smith believes that the actual figures are much higher. The reason behind such rapes is the widely-held belief that sexual intercourse with a virgin can cure the deadly AIDS virus.

Amid the steadily rising number of those infected by HIV, this problem is going to get worse," she warns.

A Johannesburg hospital estimated in 1999 that 40 per cent of the country's 20- to 29-year-old men have the HIV virus. And it is from this age group that most of the sex crime perpetrators come.

Many of them work in entire groups and rape their victim for hours at a time.

This no longer has anything to do with the (AIDS cure) myth, but has rather become a kind of 'national sport' among young men," Smith contends.

She says she is constantly hearing the argument that the dominant role of the man is a part of African culture. What goes unsaid in this is that men therefore believe that they are entitled to have power over women.

The chances for a rapist going unpunished are good. "The police are useless," Smith complains. In 1998, charges were filed for some 54,000 rapes, "but only 350 men were sentenced".

The state law and order commission estimated in 1999 that only one in 30 rapes gets reported.

Many women are afraid of going to the police," Smith said. Sometimes they were afraid of being targeted further by their tormentors, but in other cases there had been repeated reports that the police themselves raped women who turned up to report a rape.

In addition, many police officials are corrupt and will let the rapists free for a small payment, Smith adds.
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