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About Rape

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

What is Rape?

Rape is sexual activity – specifically penetration or sexual violation of the genital organs or anus – perpetrated by one person against the will of another, either by using force or coercion, or by rendering the victim incapable of resisting.

More broadly, it may be defined as forcing a person to submit to any sex act, and is generally considered one of the most serious crimes.

How is rape defined in South Africa?

Traditionally, when a man was accused of having intercourse with a woman against her wishes it was called rape. But the narrow and outdated legal definition of rape as “intentional unlawful sexual intercourse with a woman without her consent” is being rewritten.

The new Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Amendment Bill, passed by the National Assembly on 22 May 2007, has broadened the definition of rape to include not only vaginal penetration, but forced or coerced anal or oral sex, irrespective of the gender of either the victim or the perpetrator. Thus the sexual violation of males by sodomy, which until this time was classified as indecent assault, is now included as rape. (It sometimes goes by the term “male rape”.) The Bill also names penetration with an inanimate object or animal genitalia as rape.

Specifically, the law states: “a person who unlawfully and intentionally commits an act which causes penetration to any extent whatsoever by the genital organs of that person into or beyond the anus or genital organs of another person, or any act which causes penetration to any extent whatsoever by the genital organs of another person into or beyond the anus or genital organs of the person committing the act, is guilty of the offence of rape.”

However, this Sexual Offences Bill – in the making since 1998 – which also deals with the dangers of rape, HIV infection, the protection of children and the mentally disabled from sexual exploitation, has yet to be made law, making the default legal definition of rape a grey area.


What Every South African Should Know About Rape is a book in Q&A format being composed on BOOK SA’s About Rape blog. Posts should be considered drafts; comment, criticism, augmentations and corrections are welcome.

To contribute, simply post text and links by registering with BOOK SA, then using the “Comment” function at the very bottom of this article. For more information, see the About Page.


Recent comments:

  • Lesley
    April 3rd, 2008 @13:56 #

    Where does this violence come from?

    I want to know how many men are raped when they are young or practising to be soldiers. The only way I can make sense of how dangerous the world is for women, is to surmise that it is an even more brutal, silent place for men. Every time I have mentioned such a thing around a dinner table there has been a harsh quietness about the boys. Perhaps, I imagine, they are more afraid of anyone finding out what happens to them than they are of becoming that which scares them?

    And, I want to understand why we persist in ineffective symptomatic treatment, when the man who was named the Nasrec Serial Killer was born in jail and will most likely die there? When the woman who left her dying baby in a sewer has a cousin who wants to know why the boy around the corner shot a stranger “for his cellphone”?

    These are not excuses for brutality. On the contrary, it is my sense of responsibility that seeks others having the same discomforting debate. We need to ask hard questions. Maybe hear what we don’t want to hear.

    Is there an epidemic of molestation and rape of young boys going on in the shadows? How long has this been going on? Is that what’s happening? It feels like it in my belly-button.

    Also, while rape is defined by its sexual manifestation, I am quite sure that if we can figure out what drives that man (someone’s child) to pour boiling water on a woman (someone’s child for God sake), we might begin to understand how to grow people up whose world is not a torture chamber.

    Sometimes when I think about being raped as I was and what I would do if I was raped again (useless speculations but I have them anyway, just a normal human), I think that just as I am about to be raped I will become a monster. I will devour my rapist. I will have hot breath and be horror. More horror than he. It is a bad dream. Becoming what I fear. Do some people become their own worst nightmare so that they can sleep at night?

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    April 3rd, 2008 @15:03 #

    I can't imagine that most rape stems from personal pathology: an inability to know wrong from right, anything excusable in terms of the psychology of a damaged upbringing.

    Most rape is institutional; it stems from our public pathology: rapists largely feel they are justified in raping; it is not an ethical question. Our country and our communities within it condone the power relations that make such violence thinkable. If a man believes a woman has certain roles simply and solely because she is a woman, if a husband thinks he is justified in hitting his wife when she is out of line, if he believes that there is a line she should be in, these are the national groundrules for rape.

    We need to question the assumptions we make about each other at the most basic and taken-for-granted levels to even scratch at the surface of these questions.

  • Lesley
    April 4th, 2008 @23:28 #

    I am not sure where the personal and the public pathologies begin and end. When you are being raped it feels like one sick man. When no one will tell your boba that you were raped (and you need your family to come around and love you because you were nearly murdered), it feels like one sick life.

    Do I understand you? This is a question about what we assume about each other: Does the silent conspiracy cover a wholesale disgrace? Am I right to assume that every third or fourth man I meet has been abused? How big is the secret or is this speculation, just my sad denial, or better, my desire to live without the bitter after-taste? My fear: that I know less than before (that it was not even worth the lesson) and that my post-traumatic life has manifest in wild imagining, far from truth?

    What is rape? It is against your will. It is a moment when your body responds despite yourself and he stops to say what are you doing and you freeze and also wonder what you have done and you cannot understand or find books or similar stories and the pallid doctor slides one tranquiliser over his big desk, and your mother looks on, shocked and quiet.

    SHOUT IT OUT LOUD: I want to know how many boys are fucked over when they are young? I want to know how many rape victims respond to their rapists in ways they have never told any one. I want to know why we do not own up to our selves and seem somehow to prefer drowning in numbers, forms to complete, one woman every minute.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Phillippa Yaa</a>
    Phillippa Yaa
    April 5th, 2008 @09:52 #

    A very good point, but perhaps the problem is that it is a woman who is making it. Men need to acknowledge the hurt that has been done to them and to develop their strategy for healing themselves.

    I think there's definitely a strain of misogyny in our culture and the act of rape is a violent manifestation of it. As women we are constantly redefining our identities as our bodies and our circumstances change. Men are only now starting that process.

    For us, it began in the political movement of feminism where the concept "the personal is political" was born. But I think that men have to still embrace that entirely, and to assign a context to their wounding.

    Early feminism was very separatist, women knew that they had to sequester themselves in order to truly expose themselves. The exposing of issues, debating their impact, and the many strategies for resolution of the challenges that faced women were the product of this fruitful process that literally changed the world. Feminism was/is a creative manifestation of victims deciding not to be victims anymore. But first they have to own their pain, acknowledge the hurt that has been done.

    Perhaps men need to do the same thing - but they need guidance in order to not play out their own pathology, for example, competitiveness.


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