Phale Hendrick, a paralegal journalist working for CJN at our Musina advice office has identified a very serious problem in the area. There are cases arriving at his office where 16-year-old boys are having sex with 13-year-old children. And he has identified a huge gap in the education of teenagers around the subjects of sex, rape and consent.
The office has also recently explored a case where two minors (both under 14-years-old) were having consensual sex and the parents of the girl wanted to press charges against the boy. This was dropped. They then wanted to sue in a civil case. A private lawyer advised against this and said it would be a lengthy and costly process. The two families have recently settled the matter out of court. Hendrick used this case to illustrate how difficult and emotional these matters can become.
Hendrick then approached the issue of a girl as young as 13 and how she isn’t going to engage in a relationship with a much older male unless unlawfully coerced. With the help of CJN he laid out the difference between consensual sex and rape. He explained to listeners the charges you can face and the time you can spend in jail if you cross this line. It was powerful and important for the community to hear. This is in the context of Musina being located in the Limpopo province where it is common to find children married off to older men (with the family’s consent) as long as it is financially beneficial for them.
As a tangible consequence this show brought an exceptional number of people to the advice office after the broadcast. The cases which were triggered by the broadcast were varied, but all fell under the umbrella of abuse and manipulation of women. One case which Hendrick has decided to take on is of an 18 year-old who is living with her grandmother and her uncle. The young woman is being treated like a slave by her uncle, forcing her to wash, clean and cook for him. The uncle regularly takes her money (which she earned at her job) and drinks it away. The way Hendrick is going to handle this problem is to sit down with the entire family and attempt a mediation process. If they don’t come to an agreement then he will contact the department of social development and SAPS.
Consent means giving permission for something to happen, but the shocking truth is that in South Africa there are a number of cases left unreported because as a society we are conditioned to believe that when a woman is in a relationship with a man he has a right to her body. According to The Sonke CHANGE trial, conducted in 2016 in Diepsloot – a densely population township north of Johannesburg – 38% of men (two in five) admitted to having forced a woman into have sex with them. The Sonke CHANGE trial was a partnership between the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and gender activist organisation Sonke Gender Justice. If we extend the question to broader violence – having beaten or threatened to hurt a woman – the statistic jumps to 54%, almost three in five men. Even more problematic findings came out of the study, one of which is a widely known problem in South Africa: a large number of rape cases go unreported, and when they are reported, little is done. According to the study, of over 500 sexual assault cases reported to the Diepsloot police since 2013, only one case led to a conviction. According to The Economist, it is estimated that only one in every nine cases of rape is reported to the police.
Rape statistics in South Africa
Coverage of rape in South Africa has been controversial and notoriously misinformed for many years. This is because of the aforementioned low reporting of rape cases, and poor record keeping and reporting of rape statistics. Simply put, beyond the official number of cases reported to the SAPS, we do not know the true extent of rape and sexual assault in South Africa. An infamous – and debunked – statistic quoted by South African actress Charlize Theron, and widely cited in media across the world, was that a woman or child is raped every 26 seconds in South Africa. This statistic would imply that over 1.2 million women and children are raped every year. The source of the claim was a 1998 estimate from a Cape Town Rape Crisis centre, based on the understanding that only one in 20 rapes are reported. This figure has been repeatedly used by international media, and repeatedly shot down. The most recent data from the South African Police Service shows that between April 2016 and December 2016, there were 30,069 reported cases of rape – down from 32,161 cases over the same period in 2015. As we begin #WomansMonth take a moment and listen to Phale from Musina FM talk about “consensual sex”.