What is rape?

Rape is the intentional unlawful sexual penetration of a victim without their consent.

Every 36 seconds, a woman is raped in South Africa. That equals the rape of 100 women/hour or 2400 women per day.   We are sadly called the ”rape capital of the world”.

People who have been raped are traumatised and can develop post-traumatic stress disorder. Serious injuries can result along with the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. A person may face violence or threats from the rapist, and, in some cultures, from the victim’s family and relatives.

Lack of consent is key to the definition of rape.

Which actions are considered to be rape?

  • Someone inserts their genital organs into the mouth, anus or genital organs of a victim
  • Any part of someone’s body, such as a finger, goes into the anus or genital organs of the victim
  • Any object, like a stick or a bottle, is put into the anus or genital organs of the victim
  • The genital organs of an animal are put into the mouth of the victim


  • Any sexual intercourse without consent is unlawful.
  • Both men and women are considered to be victims and perpetrators of rape.
  • The age of consent to have lawful sex for men and women in South Africa is 16 years.
  • Sex acts become crimes when they are performed without the permission (consent) of the person they are performed on.
  • People may not use their marriage as an excuse to rape their partners.

Which various forms of rape are there?

Date rape

“Date rape” involves rape by an acquaintance who refuses to stop when told to. Date rape often involves ‘date rape drugs” which is given by the perpetrator unknowingly to the victim.

Compelled rape

Compelled rape occurs when one person forces another to penetrate each other someone else against their will sexually. An example of compelled rape would be when a gang breaks into a couple’s home and forces them to have sex while the gang members watch.

Corrective rape

Corrective rape is a hate crime in which people are raped because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity – an attempt to ‘cure’ them of being gay. The occurrence of corrective rape is about equal among LGBT men and woman. A young man was, for example, raped by his mother in an attempt to ‘cure’ him from homosexuality.  In almost all cases, the culprits are family members themselves, which is why the victims mostly refrain from any legal recourse. It is very traumatising for them to speak about their brothers or cousins turning rapists.

Male rape

Men can also be raped. Male rape is a form of rape in which a male is a victim. This male sexual victimisation includes both rape or sexual violence in general. Very often, men don’t report being raped. If they do, their sexual identity might be brought into question, no one believes them, and frequently they are asked: ‘how could you let this happen to you?”  Heterosexual males commit most males to male rapes.

Male rape shares something with female rape: it is not about sex, but about power and degradation, about violence in which sex is the weapon. Psychologists identify several causes: a desire for conquest and control; revenge and retaliation; and what is called ‘conflict and counteraction’, in which a rapist may punish his victim as a way of dealing with confusion about his sexuality.

Statutory rape

The age of consent to have sex in South Africa is 16. An adult male who has sexual intercourse with a female under the age of 16 is guilty of statutory rape’ – even if the female has consented. A male 14 years of age or older who has sexual intercourse with a female without her consent is guilty of rape. Our law prohibits the commission of “an act of sexual penetration with a child”, and “an act of sexual violation with a child”.

A child is defined as a person 12 years or older but under the age of 16 years. Children under the age of 12 are conclusively presumed by the law to be incapable of consenting, so a sexual act with a child under that age constitutes rape or sexual assault. A boy under 14 years of age is no longer presumed to be incapable of rape.

Gang rape

Gang rape occurs when a group of people participate in the rape of a single victim. In South Africa gang rape is also known in the townships as ‘Jack rolling’. Although it is a situation “in which no brutality, no threat even, would be necessary to subdue the victim”, sadistic violence occurs on a large scale.

Jack rolling

Jack rolling has a few unique features, namely:

  • Relatively young people commit rape.
  • It is always committed in the open, and the rapists make no effort to conceal their identities.
  • It seems it is a way the rapists are trying to earn respect from the community.
  • Rapes are committed by youth who are part of roving armed gangs.
  • Rapes are usually committed in shebeens, open areas or picnic spots.
  • Gangs see Jack Rolling as a sport for tough gangsters, not as a crime.

Additional Information

Rape Myths & Facts

Myth: Rape and sexual assault are about sexual attraction and gratification.

Fact: Rape and sexual assault are all about control and domination.

Myth: A healthy person can resist being raped or sexually assaulted.

Fact: Healthy and strong people are raped every day. Rape victims are doctors, lawyers, nurses, military personnel, cooks, accountants, students—anyone, and everyone could be vulnerable to rape or sexual assault.

Myth: When it comes to sex, men can be provoked to “a point of no return.”

Fact: Men are physically able to stop at any point during sexual activity. Rape is not an act of impulsive, uncontrollable passion; it is a deliberate act of violence. Research shows that 50% of rapes are planned.

Myth: If a woman goes to her date’s room on the first date, it implies she is willing to have sex.

Fact: Nothing is ever implied. Date rapes comprise 50 to 75% of all reported rapes. The best way to prevent a bad situation is to communicate. If things get hot and heavy and you’re not sure what the other person wants, ask. Some people feel talking may ruin “the mood.” But doing something without consent is rape—and that’s a natural mood killer!

Myth: Rape is usually violent and involves a stranger.

Fact: Actually, around 73% of all rapes and 90% of rapes on college campuses are committed by someone the victim knows. Many rapes involve force or the threat of force. Some rapes are committed when the victim is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or even asleep! Sex against someone’s will is rape under any circumstances.

Myth: When a woman dresses provocatively, she’s asking for trouble.

Fact: Rapists look for easy, vulnerable targets. Thinking that women provoke attacks against them by how they dress transfers blame from the perpetrator to the victim. Research shows that this particular myth helps others feel better because they think rape couldn’t happen to them.

Myth: It’s not raping when a woman changes her mind in the middle of sexual activity.

Fact: A woman can change her mind at any time. Say you want to stop, say no or say you’ve changed your mind. A respectful partner does not want to do something that you don’t want to do.

Myth: Only attractive women are raped.

Fact: Anyone can be raped. Children, the elderly and people with physical and mental disabilities are easy targets of rape because of their vulnerability. Men, gay and straight alike, can and do get raped. Rape is not about passion or uncontrollable lust. It’s about control over another person, and it’s an opportunistic act of violence. Heterosexual men are responsible for the majority of all rapes.

Myth: Anyone who is drunk or high and being a flirt gets what they deserve.

Fact: Being drunk or high is risky behaviour that could have many dangerous consequences. Rape is just one of them. People who are “loaded” are also less likely to use protection and more likely to have sex or be coerced into having sex with someone they don’t know. The bottom line: regardless of a person’s behaviour, no one deserves to be raped. Furthermore, people who commit crimes while “under the influence” are still responsible for their actions.

Myth: Women fantasise about being raped.

Fact: Some women have sexual fantasies about having aggressive sex with a stranger or being “forced” into performing certain sexual acts, but they can stop the fantasy when it becomes too frightening. During an actual rape, the victim is powerless to stop anything.

Myth: If a person doesn’t fight back, she or he wasn’t raped.

Fact: Rape can be life-threatening, mainly when a rapist uses a weapon or force to accomplish penetration. Submission is not the same as cooperation. Whatever a person does to survive is the appropriate action.

Myth: There are a lot of false rape reports.

Fact: The false report rate for rape is similar to other false felony reports. The FBI estimates that about 2% of reported rapes are false.

Myth: Most people report rape or sexual assault to the police.

Fact: The truth is that rape and sexual assault are two of the most under-reported crimes in our society. Estimates show that between 50–90% of rapes go unreported. Factoring unreported rapes together with the odds of an arrest being made and the chances of getting a felony conviction, only 6% of rapists will ever spend a day in jail. In other words: 15 of 16 rapists walk free.

During the assault, a person will generally act in one or more of five ways: fight, flight, freeze, friend, or flop.
The way a person reacts is often not what he or she would have predicted, and after the rape is over, a rape survivor may be uncomfortable with and not understand how they reacted while it was occurring.

Most people respond passively to the assault, which afterwards can confuse people (including the survivor) who assume that someone being raped would call for help or struggle, resulting in their clothes being torn or injuries resulting from the survivor being subdued after resisting.

People being raped often dissociate to some extent during the assault. The memory of the experience will usually be fragmented, especially immediately afterwards; memory generally consolidates with time, especially following REM sleep.

A man or boy who is raped may get an erection and ejaculate during the experience, which may become a source of shame and confusion for him and people around him afterwards.

Immediately following a rape, the survivor may react outwardly in a wide range of ways, from expressive to close down. Common emotions include distress, anxiety, shame, disgust, helplessness, and guilt. Denial is not uncommon.

In the weeks following the rape, the survivor may develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome and may develop a wide array of psychosomatic complaints,

PTSD symptoms include re-experiencing the rape, avoiding things associated with the rape, numbness, and increased anxiety and startle response. The likelihood of sustained severe symptoms is higher if the rapist confined or restrained the person if the person being raped believed the rapist would kill him or her. The person who was raped was very young or very old, and if the rapist was someone he or she knew. The likelihood of sustained severe symptoms is also higher if people around the survivor ignore (or are ignorant of) the rape or blame the rape survivor.

Most people recover from rape in three to four months, but many have persistent PTSD that may manifest in anxiety, depression, substance abuse, irritability, anger, flashbacks, or nightmares. Also, rape survivors may have a long-term generalised anxiety disorder, develop one or more specific phobias, major depressive disorder, and may experience difficulties resuming their social life and sexual functioning. People who have been raped are at higher risk of suicide.
Men experience similar psychological effects of being raped, but they are less likely to seek counselling

Get help

How to survive a rape

1. Get to safety.

2. Call for help on your cell phone, if you still have one:  Help Line : *120*7355#.The helpline will immediately send you addresses of the three nearest rape support centres to where you are at that moment. You can also call: SAPS Emergency number: 10111

3. Don’t wash, go to the toilet or change your clothes. It is essential to collect DNA samples that you are examined as soon as possible after a rape, just as you are. They will contain a vaginal smear, urine, scrape under your fingernails, and collect potential DNA from your clothes like hair or semen of the rapist.

4. After the medical evaluation, you may wash and change.

5. It is essential to talk about what happened to you. Don’t isolate yourself. Remember the rape was not your fault. It would help if you also got professional counselling.

Please read the following guide for more information:


Victim support

A victim is a person who suffered physical, mental or emotional
harm, including the economic loss or substantial impairment of their
fundamental rights through crime and may, include a victim of
abuse of power by authorities.

The following link will give you more information on:

  • Your rights as a victim
  • Services police officers provide to victims of crime.
  • Registering a case docket
  • Referral to victim support services
  • How the victim-friendly rooms at police stations are supposed to function.
  • The role of the investigating officers and commanders


A victim’s right to an abortion

A rape victim who becomes pregnant as a result of the rape is legally entitled to an abortion. The abortion must be done before 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Victim Impact Statement

A victim impact statement is a “written account by the victim, which describes the effect that crime has had upon him/her.”  The report is part of the legal process at the sentencing stage or a parole hearing. Once they have laid a charge, victims often feel they have no further input in the hearing and result thereof. On the other hand, the accused may have access to expert legal counsel and character testimonies to help reduce the sentence.

Justice is served when the interests of the offender,  the state and the victim, are considered and balanced against one another. The introduction of victim-impact statements is one of how the said balance may be achieved.

Therefore, the victim needs to hand in a written Victim Impact Statement before the accused’s sentencing.

Penalty: The punishment for rape depends on the degree of violence used, the seriousness of injury inflicted, the age of the victim and whether the crime was planned or not. The sentence which is imposed may range from a short period in prison to life imprisonment.



If you need more information on sexual abuse or have been a victim of rape or sexual abuse,  you can do the Sexual Abuse Quiz.




If you need someone to talk to, advice and support, you can chat with a facilitator on LIVE CHAT. Our service is text-based, and you may remain anonymous.




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