By Karen Breytenbach
Almost a fifth of South African men have raped a woman at least once in their lives, the South African Medical Research Council (MRC) has disclosed in releasing its annual report.
The MRC's Gender and Health Research Unit interviewed 1 370 men between the ages of 15 and 26 about sexual violence towards women.
About eight percent of respondents reported having been sexually violent towards their intimate partner, while 16.3 percent reported raping a non-partner or participating in some form of gang-rape.
Also noted was an overlap of 44 percent of men raping non-partners and intimate partners. The mean age at which respondents first raped a woman was 17.
The MRC considers this research paper of "substantial international importance" as it is the first of its kind outside North America. It is also the first to have a single set of data on the rape of intimate and non-intimate partners. The findings contribute significantly to an understanding of why rape is so common in South Africa.
The researchers looked at reasons why men raped and common factors in their backgrounds. Adversity in childhood, alcohol abuse and, surprisingly, a more educated mother were associated with partner and non-partner rapes. Non-partner rapes were also associated with greater susceptibility to peer pressure to have sex, membership of a gang or using drugs.
The destructive impact of apartheid on the family made many children vulnerable to sexual and emotional abuse, the study found.
"The other noticeable set of factors are those related to particular ideas of masculinity, where women are seen as objects to be conquered and controlled, sex is often seen as an impersonal act of physical gratification, with masculinity often defined in terms of sexual conquest, and where male peer group bonding is emphasised," the MRC report read.
"Contrary to popular belief that men who rape are poor and unable to win women for consensual sex, we found men of relatively higher social status were more likely to rape."
A survey of 1 295 sexually active women from the rural Eastern Cape explored the link between HIV and gender-based violence. HIV infection was associated with having three or more partners in the preceding year and having a partner who was three or more years older and more educated than the woman.
The Health Promotion Research and Development Group found sexual assault, violence and depression common among HIV-positive women. A sub-division of the unit is looking into male attitudes and is working with traditional leaders to include health messages during initiation.
"Especially in terms of HIV, men are part of the problem. We have to teach boys and men to respect their sexual health and women," Mbewu said.