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Gender-Based Violence Project

GBV is a recognised violation of basic human rights (WHO, 2002a). The violence can, therefore, be directed at women, girls, men, boys and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) community. The majority of affected individuals are women (and by extension their children) because of the unequal distribution of power and resources in society, as illustrated in Bloom’s (2008: 14) definition:

“[Gender-based violence is] violence that occurs as a result of the normative role expectations associated with each gender, along with the unequal power relationships between the two genders, within the context of a specific society.”

South Africa has some of the highest levels of sexual violence and related offences in the world. Experts in GBV and sexual offences think that many rapes and other sexual offences are still underreported. Women and children who are subjected to rape and other sexual offences are also more vulnerable to other sexual and reproductive health problems. This can have implications for HIV status, pregnancy, contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and physical injuries.

Women, girls, and other at-risk populations’ distinct vulnerability to GBV are rooted in the various inequalities they experience and this includes unequal power relationships based on biological sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation (Khan, 2011). It also reflects the high levels of inequality and patriarchy found in South Africa (Hwenha, 2014).

South Africa has one of the highest incidences of reported rape in the world. The South African Police Services figures show that the total number of sexual offences reported between April 2015 and March 2016 was 51 895 (SAPS, 2016). SAPS does not disaggregate the sexual offences statistics into categories, so this number is made up of sexual assault, rape and domestic sexual abuse. The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) (2015) highlights that only one in 13 rape cases are thought to be reported to the police in South Africa. In addition, nearly 33% of men report that they have raped a woman at some stage during their lifetime (Hwenha, 2014). NACOSA (2015) adds that 37.4% of men in South Africa admitted to have perpetrated sexual offences. In South Africa, one in four woman report sexual or physical intimate partner violence. There has also been an increase in interim protection orders for domestic violence over the past few years, and the warrant of arrest orders on protection orders has also increased (Watson, 2015). The National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA, 2016) rape statistics for the TCCs for the year August 2015 – July 2016 are 32 688. Of these 58% are children below the age of 18 years.

According to the Global Review of Violence against Women, 35% of women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner or non-partner violence (UNWOMEN, 2013). Violence is one of the most critical problems facing women and girls in South Africa. Rape has reached epidemic levels and domestic violence is a daily occurrence for millions of women in the country.

Soul City (2013) identified a number of barriers for reporting sexual violence. These include inadequate services for rape survivors, previous experience where the SAPS were not helpful and blamed victims, stigma and shame, distrust in the criminal justice system, dependence and/or fear of the perpetrator and lack of information about support services. Soul City (2013) also highlighted concerns regarding confidentiality as a reason for lack of reporting by survivors.

The Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR, 2009) explains the high levels of violence in South Africa:

  • Violence in South Africa is normalised and often seen as justified way of resolving conflict;
  • The criminal justice system is perceived as ineffective and corrupt; and
  • High levels of inequality, poverty, unemployment and social exclusion are leading to higher levels of violence in the country.

In addition, DSD (2014) highlights that there are additional contributing factors, including HIV status, sexual identity, the breakdown of family structures, discrimination, unequal power relations and patriarchy. The historical inequalities related to race, gender and socio-economic conditions also add to this (NACOSA, 2015).

Watson (2015) highlights a number of myths related to rape in South Africa. According to her, this influences the poor prosecution and conviction rates for reported rape. These myths include ideas that it is not possible to rape a woman if she resists, some forms of sex are not regarded as rape and that when a woman says ‘no’ to sexual intercourse, she actually means ‘yes’. There are also links to woman ‘asking for it’ based on the way she’s dressed, or that she’s responsible for rape and sexual assault if she drinks alcohol.

Risk factors and drivers of gender-based violence

Community- or societal-level factors that relate to the existence of GBV include:

  • Inappropriate societal norms and standards
  • Destructive masculine identities
  • Gender inequality
  • Ineffective legislative and policy contexts and ineffective interventions

Individual-level factors that relate to the existence of gender-based violence include:

  • Childhood exposure to violence (either directly or witnessed)/child abuse
  • Use of drugs and alcohol
  • Access to firearms

South Africa has a number of responses addressing GBV. This a comprehensive list of legislative and policy frameworks to address and combat the prevalence of gender based violence in South Africa. Some will be discussed in more detail.

  • The Domestic Violence Act (Act No. 116, 1998)
  • The Criminal Law Sexual Offences and Related Matters Amendment Act (Act No. 32, 2007)
  • Firearms Control Act (Act No. 60, 2000)
  • The Children’s Act 38 of 2005
  • National Policy Guidelines on Victim Empowerment
  • National Instructions on Domestic Violence
  • National Policy Framework on the Management of Sexual Offences
  • National Instructions on Sexual Offences
  • National Directives and Instruction on Conducting a Forensic Examination on Survivors of Sexual Offences in terms of the Criminal Law Sexual Offences and Related Matters Amendment Act (Act No. 32, 2007)
  • The Victims Charter (2004)
  • National Management Guidelines for Sexual Assault 2003
  • Court System and Case flow Management
  • Family Violence Child Protection and Sexual Offences (FCS) investigation units at the SAPS.

It is worth noting that while there might be various laws, policies and frameworks in place, enforcement of these is often inadequate (WHO, 2014). The prevalence of gender-based violence in South Africa

When interpreting statistics and other empirical evidence on the prevalence of GBV authors caution that careful interpretation is necessary. Under-reporting is likely for a variety of reasons that include shame, familiarity with the perpetrator, internalisation, inappropriate societal norms that blame the victim, etc. (Kim and Motsei, 2002; Parliamentary Research Unit, 2013a; NACOSA, 2015; SAHRC, 2015). When information is collected on sexual offences and domestic violence the information is often not disaggregated and information is difficult to compare across sources (Parliamentary Research Unit, 2013a).

In understanding statistics on gender-based and sexual violence it is important to understand that vulnerability to violence spans the entire life cycle, in other words most victims will repeatedly be subjected to (or perpetuate) GBV (Weideman, 2008). Surveys conducted in four South African provinces in 2008 and 2010 show, for example, that over 80% of respondents thought that “women should obey their husbands”, or that “women need their husbands’ permission” to engage in various daily activities. Only about half of respondents thought that “men should share the work around the house with women” (Jewkes, n.d.). Further, more than 60% of female respondents said that they could not “refuse to have sex with their husbands”, and as many as 40% thought “beating was a sign of love” (Jewkes, n.d.). Unequal power relationships resulting from patriarchal systems, and the favouring of heterosexuality as sexual orientation also has implications for the prevalence, type and responses to violence (NACOSA, 2015).

It is worth noting that while there might be various laws, policies and frameworks in place, enforcement of these is often inadequate (WHO, 2014). The prevalence of gender-based violence in South Africa.

The following are some of the most significant legislative and policy frameworks.


The Increasing Services for Survivors of Sexual Assault in South Africa (ISSSASA) Programme funded by USAID, is a collaboration of leading South Africa organisations – Foundation for Professional Development, The Soul City Institute, Sonke Gender Justice Network and the South African Medical Research Council. The objective of this program is to improve service provision and community awareness of services for survivors of sexual assault in South Africa, which struggles with one of the highest rates of gender-based violence in the world. The Government of South Africa’s fight against sexual and gender based violence is spearheaded by the Sexual Offenses and Community Affairs (SOCA) unit of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) within South Africa’s Department of Justice and Constitutional Development. USAID has worked with the NPA/SOCA since 1999 to establish the Thuthuzela Care Centre (TCC) model. TCCs provide a comprehensive portfolio of services to survivors of GBV, including emergency medical care, psychosocial counselling, post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), HIV testing and counselling, and assistance with case reporting and court preparation in an integrated and victim-friendly manner. The TCC model seeks to streamline the care process for GBV survivors by establishing effective linkages between various service providers and government stakeholders, and to improve legal services by reducing time-to-court and increasing the conviction rate.