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About Rape

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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 But the narrow and outdated legal definition of rape as “intentional unlawful sexual intercourse with a woman without her consent” is being rewritten.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.

What Every South African Should Know About Rape: a New Blook for BOOK SA

Joanne HichensBen WilliamsMmatshilo MotseiMargie Orford

A few years ago, I came across Chris Hedge’s extraordinary book, What Every Person Should Know About War, published during the second US invasion of Iraq, which is written in a way that transmits the experience of being a soldier viscerally, using a very simple Q&A format.

It’s fair to say the book changed my life, deeply affecting the way I feel about war, allowing me to inhabit war from the point of view of an ordinary person caught up in it, threatened by it, forced to face it on a daily basis.

The book also spurred my creative imagination, and I began to think about the other uses to which Hedges’ ingenious formula could be put. The Q&A structure is ideal for blogging, and the sympathetic style – using the first person for questions, and the second person for answers – lends itself to emotional impact beyond that generated by the stark facts.

Sexual violence in South Africa amounts, in my opinion, to a war on women. Rape is an unconscionable crime, one that needs to be confronted on as many levels as possible. And so this blog, About Rape, is born: a “blook” that will, we hope, contribute to awareness-raising in the fight against rape, and that will be published as a softcover and e-book with the title, What Every South African Should Know About Rape, to coincide with this December’s Sixteen Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.
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