Gwynne Dyer: Rape is an African problem

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      Last May, with considerable trepidation, I wrote an article about what seemed to be extraordinarily high rates of rape in Africa. 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 men27.6 percent—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.

      Over the next couple of years, I ran across a couple of other less detailed studies suggesting that the problem was not just South African. A report from the eastern Congo in 2012 said that over a third of the men interviewed—34 percent—had committed rape, and an older report from Tanzania found that 20 percent of the women interviewed said they had been raped (although only one-10th as many rapes were reported to the police).

      So I wrote a piece called 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 two and four percent 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).

      There were some local peculiarities, like the fact that in rural Bangladesh men are more likely to get raped than women. China came in surprisingly high, with six percent of the men interviewed admitting to rape, but that may be related to the growing surplus of males in a society where the gender ratio has become very skewed: there are 99 large Chinese cities where more than 125 boys are born for every 100 girls.

      But Papua New Guinea was right up there with South Africa: 26.6 percent of the men interviewed had committed “single perpetrator rape” of a non-partner woman. And the other numbers were just as startling: 14 percent of PNG men had participated in a gang rape, and 7.7 percent 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.

      Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.


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      Sep 16, 2013 at 3:40pm

      While I applaud and support the call for action against rape and specifically pointing it out as a male perpetrator violence issue. I think the influence of "developed" nation interference and colonialism can not be ignored.

      Granted nothing excuses these acts regards of their root.

      But if extreme systemic poverty is even part of it then colonialism and its inherent economic exploitation are a factor we must address. Even today, with PNG being one of the fastest growing economies in the world, the poverty has not abated. This fact rests squarely on the people running the corporations, their shareholders and their governments who allow, abide and are complicit with the exportation of wealth from these countries, which sees little or no compensation going back to all its citizens.

      If "fair trade" were the sole mantra of the corporate elite and their colonial forebears; perhaps these impoverished communities, with vast natural resources, would be able to sustain themselves on the royalty payments they deserve.

      Would this stop their men from raping? Not in of itself but these communities would have the necessary funds to eradicate poverty and deal with these potentially patriarchal, cultural and violence issues.

      John-Albert Eadie

      Sep 16, 2013 at 6:55pm

      Moral suasion and policing is probably not going to change things much, but as I think 'W' implies, a change in their economic conditions may do so. Which amongst other things means putting the profit from their natural resources into the hands of the Africans themselves. That's the cure for tribal primitivism, not continuing colonialism.

      Annie M.

      Sep 17, 2013 at 12:13pm

      As an African women myself, I can say all this rapist are not to be blame for their actions.
      For me all is based on our educations, unfortunately in “African culture" rape is normal
      what children’s see or listen to, they grow up and replicating it.

      African father would tell is own son, to beat he’s wife and rape her if she does not comply
      with whatever he said.

      Colonialism, development or whatever has nothing to do with this rape situations.


      Sep 17, 2013 at 1:50pm

      I think it's irresponsible to collect data from three out of 52 countries on the continent and call something an African epidemic in the context of the globe. I have no doubt in my mind that violent acts period, are more likely to happen in areas of the world with extreme poverty and post colonial physiological oppression still playing out. What I take issue with is that by calling this an "African Problem," you've failed to acknowledge the thousands of Rape and sexual violence survivors right here in North America...British Columbia included. It's a shame. All this article has done is throw shady statistics against word-wide problem that women, men, boys and girls face every minute of everyday. A waste of useful journalistic space...


      Sep 17, 2013 at 4:17pm

      Rape is a human problem; it happens all over this planet. It might happen more at times in some place than others. Dyer is practising selective statistical analysis.


      Sep 17, 2013 at 6:13pm

      Im sorry, but when men are TEN TIMES more likely to rape in South Africa and PNG, that is not being selective with the statistics. Yes, rape (or sexual assault) is a problem and a heinous crime globally, but if you want to reduce its incidence you must look at what works, and what doesn't. Poverty is not the only factor, e.g. Bangladesh suffers from the same post-colonial poverty issues, patriarchy, etc and yet has nowhere near the comparable statistics.


      Sep 17, 2013 at 8:19pm

      These things happen because (imo): men have FAR stronger sex drives then women (don't believe me - go check out a porn chat forum on the web and see what percentage of those who post are least 90% are) AND women are still thought of as inferior to men by too many humans.
      And sure the situation is far worse in several countries. But it is TOTALLY unacceptable everywhere.

      And there is only one way to stop it - women have to take the initiative themselves and NEVER trust ANY politician that is a man that they will do anything about it.
      Women in democracies have to band together and vote in ONLY women into power AND demand these women take immediate and decisive steps to fight this world wide horror show - both at home and abroad.

      Hoping that the UN will pass some powerless mandate or that the present, male-dominated, world leaders will actually do something decisive to fight this is naive in the extremis.

      Mark my words - so long as most world leaders are men, no one who is reading this will ever see a day when the rape of females is not disgustingly frequent.

      And btw - I am a heterosexual man.

      So get off your political asses ladies and stop voting for men or you can kiss ever ridding the world of millions of rapes per year goodbye in your lifetime. Because most men just don't care enough about the problem.
      Oh they care - but not enough.


      Sep 18, 2013 at 8:26pm

      By saying " Rape is an African problem",Dyer appears to be taking a very myopic view of a global problem.He makes vague references to reports that clearly used varying methods of collecting data and used loaded questions that push respondents towards a certain response.I am also disappointed by the veiled profiling of Africa is being the worst place on the planet for male on female rape.The issue of rape is universal with first world countries like Sweden , Australia, Russia reporting increasing numbers of rapes cases annually.i am tired of people making blanket statements without clearly researching matters under discussion. It's particularly disturbing when the purveyors of such misinformation masquerade as journalist!


      Sep 19, 2013 at 11:38am

      I have never disagreed with Dyer, but I must disagree on this one. If you are going to generalize about Africa, I wouldn't want to use statistics of Eastern Congo and South Africa. Also, I would also not use terms such as developed and developing world if I were comparing social factors. Its like quoting Greece and Spain to talk about the economics of Europe. For those who are un aware, Dyre intentionally deletes the fact that Eastern congo has been in war or some form of insecurity for over 20 years. sexual violence is always rife during conflict and I think its the same in Syria. On the other hand South Africa does not fair well either on other social issues such as violence, robbery and other related factors. Dyre claims to be bold by saying this and I agree that he is bold enough to present either a half truth or a half story.

      Jib Halyard

      Sep 20, 2013 at 8:28am

      Yes, W and JA Eadie and fellow travellers. It's the evil British who are to blame for everything wrong in the world today. Better to be PC than to actually try to improve anything, I guess..