Monday, December 13, 2010

Breaking the cycle

A 2009 study conducted by the Medical Research Council (MCR) sent shockwaves across the country when it revealed that one in four men in the coastal provinces of the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal admitted to committing rape. But the findings of a new report, the Gauteng Gender Violence Indicators Pilot Project, released to coincide with 16 days of international activism against gender violence, suggest the situation may be even worse than initially thought.

The study found that 78.3 per cent of men admitted to perpetrating some form of violence - whether emotional, physical or sexual - against women. Twenty-five per cent of the women interviewed said they had experienced some form of sexual violence - but only 3.9 per cent of these reported the crime to the police. One in 13 of the women surveyed said they had been raped by a non-partner, but just one in 25 rapes had been reported to the police. Of the men interviewed, 37.4 per cent admitted to committing an act of sexual violence at least once.

A recent study conducted by the TLAC revealed that just four per cent of approximately 2,000 cases of rape they tracked since 2003 resulted in a conviction. "You are asking people to come out and report the cases, but if there are few consequences, then you are effectively undermining all of that," Vetten says. "The system is just not working."

According to official South African police statistics there were 68,332 reported sexual offences between March 2009 and March 2010. From March 2009 to March 2010, there were 16,834 reported cases of murder, 17,410 reported cases of attempted murder and 113,755 reported cases of aggravated robbery.

Mbuyiselo Botha, an activist at the Sonke Gender Justice Network, argues that getting to the root of violence in South Africa requires one to emerge from the collective amnesia about South Africa's past.
Botha, who works to rehabilitate abusive men, insists that this focus on the past is not an excuse. "We must remember that gender violence in South Africa is another type of violence, along with road rage, the massive rate of murders," he says. "We are a nation who abuse each other, because it seems to be the only language we understand. "It is tempting to have amnesia for what happened in the past ... it is useful to remember that we are emerging from an abnormal system that invariably created abnormal individuals who created a society that is also abnormal."

Some activists suggest that the social and cultural baggage of apartheid may not only be impacting poor, black men.

"We focus on the victims, and this is not a bad thing, but we tend to forget that fixing this problem means we have to unpack the origins of a type of masculinity that is required for social domination," Anthony Collins, a social researcher at the University of KwaZulu-Natal's department of psychology, says, adding that studies have shown that during apartheid there was a correlation between returning soldiers and increased violence. "Think about British colonisation, with its harsh public school system of canes and cold showers; a sort of brutal psychological conditioning that created essentially aggressors that forwarded the aims of the empire."We know that well over 90 per cent of South Africans endorse corporal punishment ... and ultimately, the roots of violence come from violence during childhood. On one hand you have the new Domestic Violence Act, a set of gender provisions that are terribly progressive, the introduction of child protection courts, but on the other hand, you have a society that opposes restrictions to corporal punishment towards children and you have a violent masculinity emanating from our leadership."

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