Levels of child sexual abuse in South Africa are even higher than one activist claims


1 in 3 AS children reported some form of sexual abuse before the age of 17.Violence against women and children dominated newspaper headlines and radio broadcasts in South Africa.

Recently, an activist told a talk show host that 25% of South African girls would experience sexual abuse before the age of 18, compared to 17% of boys.

It was to show that boys are also at risk. Activist Rees Mann was discussing newspaper presentation on allegations of sexual abuse at a boys’ school in Johannesburg.

“One in 4 women will be sexually assaulted before the age of 18 and one in 6 boys will be sexually assaulted,” said Mann, founder of the rights organization. South African male survivors of sexual abuse, Radio 702’s Xolani Gwala told.

Is this the current situation in South Africa?

Mainly based on American sources

South African Home Secretary Hlengiwe Buhle Mkhize signs a pledge for child protection in Langa, Cape Town, in May 2017. Photo: Kopano Tlape / GCIS “/>

To substantiate his claim, Mann sent Africa Check a number of links to various websites, most of which were American.

His statistics on the percentage of men sexually abused before the age of 18 were mainly based on estimates of 1in6, an American non-governmental organization that provides support and counseling services to male victims of sexual assault and their families.

According to the organization, “at least one in 6 [American] men have had unwanted sexual experiences, including abuse and assault ”.

Organization attributes this issue to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mann did not provide a source for his estimate that one in four girls will be sexually assaulted before the age of 18.

New local study provides insight

Research into the extent of child sexual abuse in South Africa is scarce and where information is available the figures vary widely.

However, a study conducted between September 2013 and February 2015 shed new light on child sexual abuse in South Africa.

the Optimus Study was conducted by the Center for Justice and Crime Prevention and the University of Cape Town Gender, health and justice research unit as well as its psychology department.

“This is the first-ever nationally representative study on the extent of sexual violence against children in South Africa.Professor Catherine Ward, head of the psychology department, told Africa Check.

The researchers interviewed 4,086 schoolchildren and 5,631 out-of-school children – all aged 15 to 17 – about the different forms of abuse they had suffered.

Definitions of abuse vary

Prior to 2007, South Africa had a very narrow definition of rape. If this definition of rape were used in previous studies, then the level of reported sexual assault would be lower. (Note: read our rape statistics guide for more information.)

The definition we used included a much broader definition of sexual abuse than we used before, but our definition is in line with the best and most recent science in the world, ”Ward said.

The study distinguished between penetrating and non-penetrating sexual abuse.

Questions asked by Optimus study researchers:

Sexual victimization with physical contact:

  1. Has an adult (adult) you know touched your private parts when they shouldn’t or made you touch their private parts or forced you to have sex?
  2. Has an adult (adult) you did not know touch your private parts when they should not have touched their private parts or force you to have sex?

Sexual victimization without physical contact:

  1. Has another child or teenager forced you to do sexual things against your will?
  2. Has anyone tried to force you to have sex, that is, sex of any kind, even though it did not happen?
  3. Has anyone made you look at their private parts by force or surprise, made you watch them masturbate, view nude photos or pornographic videos (sex photos and videos), or by you “flashing”?
  4. Has anyone hurt you by saying or writing something sexual about you or your body?
  5. Other than the previous incidents that you may have already mentioned, at any point in your life have you done any sexual things with someone 18 or older, even things that you both wanted?

If a child answered yes to any of these questions, they were considered to have been sexually assaulted.

35% of young people sexually abused

The study found that 35.4% of young people surveyed in schools had been sexually abused at some point in their lives. In comparison, 26.3% of people surveyed at home said they had experienced sexual abuse in the past.

Ward said: “Youth interviewed at school may have felt more free to disclose sexual abuse than those interviewed at home, and so these numbers are higher.”

The study found that at least as many boys (36.8%) as girls (33.9%) reported some form of sexual abuse.

By extrapolating this figure, the study estimated that at least 784,967 young people aged 15 to 17 in South Africa have been sexually abused.

Conclusion: level of child sexual abuse even higher than announced

Following allegations of sexual abuse at a boys-only school in Johannesburg, activist Rees Mann said in a radio interview that one in four girls and one in six boys are believed to be sexually abused before age 18 years old.

But Mann’s numbers are an understatement, said one of the lead researchers in the first nationally representative child sexual abuse study. The study found that one in three South African children reported some form of sexual abuse before their 17th birthday.

Edited by Kate Wilkinson

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