Teens using gang-rape as power tool

Girl raped

One in four South African men have committed a rape, most of them during their teenage years when young men use gang rape

as a way of demonstrating their power when they feel slighted, said a researcher on sexual violence.

“A boyfriend organises to have sex with his girlfriend and then he tricks her into a situation where his other friends come into the room and then the gang rape is perpetrated,” Rachel Jewkes said by phone from South Africa, where experts met this week to assess research on preventing violence against women.

“Sometimes it is done purely as sport…You get groups of boys hanging round in rural areas who have got nothing better to do.”

South Africa’s Medical Research Council (MRC), where Jewkes heads the gender and health unit, says half of the South African men who say they have raped have committed the crime multiple times.

Sexual violence has gained global attention following U.S. President Barack Obama’s call to end sexual assault of students and Hollywood star Angelina Jolie’s advocacy for women raped in warzones. Ending violence against women is among the United Nations new development goals.


At this week’s Sexual Violence Research Initiative conference, researchers presented their latest findings, from giving pigs to rape survivors to restore their social status to stopping Ugandan teachers from beating their students.

The key ingredients that emerged as the most important for preventing sexual violence were getting people to reflect on gender inequalities and improving their communication skills.

“The bottom line in terms of preventing rape is we have to change the way in which gender relations are configured and the way in which men see themselves as men,” Jewkes said.

Men rape because they believe it is a legitimate way to dominate and control women, she said.

All of the effective interventions also teach assertiveness and conflict-resolution skills.

One school-based intervention presented at the conference, called PREPARE, showed that giving such lessons to teenagers in South Africa reduced violence in their sexual relationships.

Childhood experiences are also important – it has long been known that men who are sexually abused as children often act it out as adults through rape.

“We are now coming to understand that all forms of child abuse meted out to boys may translate into a greater likelihood that boys will end up raping when they are older,” Jewkes said.

“Attention is very much turning towards making sure that we protect boys from emotional abuse and neglect and physical abuse, as well as preventing sexual violence.”


Men’s role as family providers can often be a source of stress which can translate into violence, particularly for the unemployed, researchers said.

“Men are frustrated, especially poor, black men and coloured men, and they use violence as a way of claiming their manhood,” said Yandisa Sikweyiya, an MRC researcher.

“It’s violence against peers, violence against partners and violence against anyone that we feel is disrespecting us.”

Violence comes easily in South Africa, Sikweyiya said, as decades of repression by the white-minority apartheid government have been followed by disappointment with democracy.

He has worked on several projects, such as one called Stepping Stones, helping violent young men with multiple sexual partners to see how dangerous their behaviour is.

“I have seen magnificent things happening in front of me,” he said, describing how men have pledged to stop abusing their partners and become better fathers.

But there are still questions over whether changes in attitude mean changes in behaviour, he said.

Fresh evidence will emerge in the next three years as the MRC, with funding from the British government, oversees 18 projects aimed at preventing violence against women and girls in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East.

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