THE rape of babies and children screams to be at the very top of South Africa's national agenda – the most urgent of our many urgent debates.
With it we need to place the rape of women and even men.
South Africans have known for years that we have devastating levels of sexual abuse – probably the highest rape rate in the world and, most shamefully, the highest rate of child rape. Yesterday's Daily Dispatch confirms that this horror runs amok.
The statistics are mind-numbing. A girl born in South Africa has more chance of being raped than learning to read, according to CIET, the Community of Information, Empowerment and Transparency. Of 4000 women interviewed , one in three reported being raped in the past year. Rape South Africa says one in every two women will be raped. We average almost 70000 reported sex crimes a year – some believe 20 times as many go unreported.
Please read that paragraph again.
Damage to the victim includes severe physical injury, sometimes death, infection of any number of sexual diseases, and psychological harm which can be life-long. Victims may sink into depression. They develop chronic pain, learning problems, sexual misconduct, drug abuse, and some commit suicide. Victims often become victims again.
History tells us violent crime is linked to periods of social upheaval, unemployment and alienation, notably times of rapid urbanisation, when rural and urban families are disrupted, parents are absent and communities fragment. HIV-Aids exacerbates the disarray by creating child-headed households and thrusting children into the homes of relatives and even strangers . The attackers of young victims are often children themselves. Neighbours, cousins, uncles, brothers, fathers and step-fathers have been implicated.
A CIET survey of 1500 Soweto school children found one quarter of the boys thought gang-rape was fun; half the boys believed that when a girl said no to sex she meant yes.
Sexual violence lurks in subcultures where boys and men assume lifelong superiority over all others.
Many believe the rape of children is linked to the myth that sex with a virgin will cure Aids. Others blame capitalism, colonialism or apartheid. There seems to be more to it than that. But nobody has yet provided an adequate explanation for South Africa's exceptional levels of violence, rape and child rape.
Nobody knows the cure.
The priorities, clearly are the protection of potential victims and of victims. But this is sticking-plasters on a gaping wound. We are talking of a social plague with deep roots. We are talking of perhaps 13 million victims. Is there something more important we should be talking about?