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JOURNAL ARTICLE

The epidemiology of rape and sexual coercion in South Africa: an overview

Rachel Jewkes, Naeema Abrahams
Social Science & Medicine 2002, 55 (7): 1231-44
12365533
During 1999 the issue of rape in South Africa was debated at the highest levels. The epidemiology of rape has become an issue of considerable political importance and sensitivity, with President Mbeki demanding an answer to the question: how much rape is there in South Africa? The purpose of this paper is both to summarise and synthesise the findings of research to provide an overview of the epidemiology of rape of women in South Africa and to show how difficult it is to answer the President's question. The review begins by considering why rape is so difficult to research. Data available shows that rape reported to the police (240 incidents of rape and attempted rape per 100,000 women each year) represents the tip of an ice berg of sexual coercion. Representative community-based surveys have found, for example, that in the 17-48 age group there are 2070 such incidents per 100,000 women per year. Non-consensual sex in marriage and dating relationships is believed to be very common but is usually not well reported in surveys. Forced sexual initiation is reported by almost a third of adolescent girls. In addition coerced consensual sex is a common problem in schools, workplaces and amongst peers. Knowledge of causal and contributory factors influencing the high levels of rape are also discussed. We conclude that the rape statistic for the country is currently elusive but levels of non-consensual and coerced sex are clearly very high. International comparison needs to be approached with caution because most developing countries lack the infrastructure for accurate crime reporting and do not have such a substantial body of survey data.

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