Rape is an African problem

Last May, with considerable trepidation, I wrote an article about what seemed to be extraordinarily high rates of rape in Africa.

World View with Gwynne Dyer

The original data came from a study by South Africa’s Medical Research Council in 2009 which found that more than a quarter of South African men — 27,6% – admitted that they had committed rape. Almost half of those men had raped two or three women or girls. One in 13 had raped at least 10 victims.

So I wrote a piece called An African Iceberg in which I said that this was a phenomenon that needed urgent investigation continent-wide — but it did occur to me to wonder if there were similar icebergs in other developing countries. The only figures that were available for developing countries elsewhere were official ones, and those normally only record the number of women who tell the police they have been raped. Most don’t.

Women are reluctant to report rape in any society, and in traditional societies much more so. The South African study was the only one that had adopted the strategy of asking men directly. Maybe if the same sort of study were done in other continents, I thought, it would return equally horrifying figures.

And lo! Somebody else had the same thought, and the resources to do something about it.

The new report, conducted under the auspices of four United Nations agencies cooperating as Partners for Prevention, was published last week in the online version of The Lancet Global Health, a respected British medical journal. The study was undertaken quite specifically to learn if the South African figures were duplicated in developing countries outside Africa.

The researchers chose six countries in the Asia-Pacific region: China, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. As in the South African study, the word “rape” was not used in the questionnaire.

The 10,178 men interviewed were asked if they had ever “forced a woman who was not your wife or girlfriend at the time to have sex” or “had sex with a woman who was too drunk or drugged to indicate whether she wanted it”.

There were further questions about forcing a wife or girlfriend to have sex (which is also rape), about gang rape, and about raping males, but for simplicity’s sake let us stick with the questions about what the researchers called “single perpetrator rape” of a woman who was neither wife nor girlfriend.

The answers varied from country to country, but the overall picture was clear. Africa (or at least South Africa) is all alone out there.

In most of the Asian countries involved in the study, between 2 and 4% of the men interviewed said that they had raped a “non-partner” woman. That falls into the same range that prevails, one suspects, in most developed countries (although their reported cases of rape are much lower).

But Papua New Guinea was right up there with South Africa: 26,6% of the men interviewed had committed “single perpetrator rape” of a non-partner woman. And the other numbers were just as startling: 14% of PNG men had participated in a gang rape, and 7,7% had raped a man or boy. So Asia as a whole is quite different from Africa on this count — but PNG is practically identical.

What is so special about Papua New Guinea? It is a country with an extravagantly large number of different tribes and languages. It is an extremely violent country, where most people live in extreme poverty. It is a place where the law is enforced only sporadically, and often corruptly. And it is a place where traditional tribal values, patriarchal to the core, reign virtually unchallenged among a large part of the population. Remind you of anywhere?

Well, you already suspected that this was at the root of it, didn’t you? You just didn’t want to say so, for fear of being accused of being racist, anti-African or something of that sort.

But it does need to be said, loudly and repeatedly. Women and girls are more likely to be the victims of sexual violence in Africa than almost anywhere else, and the only way to change that is to change the behaviour of African men. By persuasion if possible, but also by enforcing the law.

Dyer is a freelance journalist based in London, UK.



8 Responses to Rape is an African problem

  1. Hyacinth September 27, 2013 at 9:04 pm #

    .I really don’t understand why is this why does people need to do this? Women are deserved to be respected and since we cannot predict what will happen next we must be alert and secure bring safety with you at http://safekidzone.com/#!/page_home this is a protection that can be install to your cell phone ten it can re easily routed to the nearest 911 if needed hope this will be a big help.

  2. farai September 28, 2013 at 1:09 am #

    But South Africa is not Africa. Despite pretensions of being a developing country, the majority of South Africans are rather still backward in their attitudes to sex, sexuality and the treatment of woman.
    This brand of journalism belongs to the “Dark Africa” monologues used to justify the occupation of Africa. We can’t use drug and alcohol abuse statistics in England as evidence of substance abuse in the EU!

    • Sanyika Citizen September 28, 2013 at 4:15 am #

      @ Farai I concur. South Africa is not Africa. The rest of Africa cannot be brushed with that same South African statistics – not until it is proven. That being said yes our authorities would do well to publish some statistics on crime rates.

    • mobie September 29, 2013 at 3:05 pm #

      the heading is all wrong. a fallacy of hasty generalization has been committed here.

  3. Mia September 28, 2013 at 9:20 am #

    Well said Farai and Sanyika ..
    Allow me to digress statistically around 50 people are murdered in South Africa each day can we conclude that Africa is a very violent place .
    I think this generalization is grossly misleading , have always liked Dyer reporting but on this one he got it wrong

  4. Jonso September 28, 2013 at 9:59 am #

    poor extrapolation of data, painting africa with one brush,

  5. Chioko September 29, 2013 at 3:56 pm #

    This of course has a very stupid conclusion. In fact figures show that rape is not as prevalent as it is in Asia. When rape is reported per capita Australia actually has the highest rates with Botswana and Lesotho but these are reported and prosecuted rape cases. In Asia most cases are never reported or else the girl reporting could end dead for shaming the family. Most Middle Eastern coutnries have very high rape rates which are never reported for religious and cultural reasons. Africa in fact would come in way down the list. South America also has high rape rates which are not reported especially in the favellas where criminals have all the power and police can not venture into. The myth that Africa has thehighest rates is not only wrong but racist. Bad men will rape full stop!!! Its policing that brings out these high numbers. Where policing is good and well funded rape rates are lower and vice versa. The problem is all men not Africans!!!!

  6. Chioko September 29, 2013 at 4:02 pm #

    Highest rates per capita: 1 Australia, 2 Botswana, 3 Sweden, 4 Lesotho All Arab countries report less than 0.006 per 100 000 but we know how Arabs treat women and how rape is dealt with in these countries. Ask any Libyan about rape and they will tell you it was part of governance when Gaddafi was in power and they are failing to get rid of this kind of thinking among men. Dyer is bringing PNG in so that he can say black men rape! If anything the Iceberg is in India

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