by Paulina French

Rape. A four letter word that certainly has no relation to that other four letter word –love. Our country has one of the highest levels of sexual violence in the world. Women and children are mostly the victims of this horrendous crime. I cannot imagine the absolute trauma that a child or woman must experience when they are raped. Most of these rapes are carried out by men that they know and trust. It is important to note that men are also subjected to sexual violence in our country. So rape is not a “woman” problem. It is a societal problem. An absolute travesty in our country.

In the past few days there has been a lot of focus on this issue, because a woman was raped in the back of a taxi in Roodepoort, Gauteng, while her 10 year old son watched. The Gauteng MEC has spoken out and had meetings with various role players. Great. The first step has been taken in creating the necessary attention, but how long will this attention last? Will we just continue now as we have: resign ourselves to living with this scourge?

An even bigger travesty is that I do not hear many men speaking out against this epidemic. I do not hear men in our churches speaking out against this crime and I wonder how many men sitting in our pews every Sunday are rapists?

Monsignor Janusz Urbańczyk, the Holy See’s Permanent Representative to the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe), when speaking at the commemoration of International Women’s day on the 9 March said: “Crimes against women and girls… cannot anymore go unheard, unseen, overlooked or treated as an inevitable consequence in the horrible reality of armed conflict”. During that week I did not hear anything mentioned in my local church. There were only a few postings on social media about the day being International Women’s Day. Surely this is the most prolific crime against women, children and even men in our country?

At the beginning of this month The Economist ran a story which covered, what it referred to, as South Africa’s “disgrace”. Of even more concern, they claim that a large number of rape cases go unreported. According to the article only one in nine rapes are reported to the police. Their report also highlighted the fact that South Africa’s rape statistics are double our murder rate at 53.8 cases per 100 000 people in the country. The time it takes you to order and drink a cup of coffee somebody somewhere in our country is being raped.

We are no longer shocked by a headline that has the word ‘rape’ in it. It is part of our vocabulary and daily life. Have we become oblivious to it because our society is so broken and this is just another consequence? At a time when human rights, including the rights of women, are very much in the spotlight, are we too going to be silent because we too are broken?