Why some men rape and how to stop them - Rand Daily Mail, 13 June 2017

'The attitudes of those closest to us are our biggest threat. This means tackling our mores and customs'


By Sara Gon 

On 27 May 2017, Stellenbosch University student Hannah Cornelius was found raped, stabbed and strangled. Cornelius’ murder was the latest in a slew of rapes and/or murders of girls and women. Once again, it’s not only the barbarity and brutality that is shocking, but the fact that nothing society and government have done in the past two decades has changed anything.

South Africa is a patriarchal society. Conservative tribal and religious values play a significant role in shaping attitudes. The only way to inculcate more modern and egalitarian values is through education at high school. After school, it’s too late.

As male children enter puberty, hormonal changes raise their levels of aggression. Some male children brought up in single parent households start to see themselves as superior to their mothers as they move into their teens. As the “man in the house”, they stop taking instructions from their mothers and even intimidate them (or worse) to stamp their authority and get their way.

Whether it is a consequence of the social dynamic of being brought up by a mother only, or the result of the influence of conservative males in the extended family, is unclear.

Factors that do play a role are poverty, poor education, unemployment, alcohol and drugs. However, middle class, educated and employed men also rape and murder. Socio-economic circumstances aren’t the fundamental explanation.

Drugs and alcohol are often the aggravating factors in committing rape and murder. Both have the effect of lowering inhibitions and diminishing self-control. The extent of inebriation can be affected by biology, size, and amount of food in the stomach.

We need a wide-ranging plan that includes a sophisticated, no-holds-barred approach to campaigns in all media. Education will be a crucial pillar. The third element is unequivocal public support from leaders in society and politics. The plan must get everyone talking constantly, so that the views are heard by potential victims and perpetrators alike.

The Ministry in the Presidency Responsible for Women would justify its existence if it did nothing but concern itself with a continuous awareness campaign, expanding facilities for victims, providing facilities for the treatment of men who have raped or abused women, or may do so, and putting real pressure on the Justice cluster to deal with these crimes better.

The current minister, Susan Shabangu, is a former minister of Mineral Resources who was known as being “volatile”. Shebangu attracted considerable negative publicity when she said at a memorial service for Karabo Mokoena that the victim had been “weak”. Her public comments are often puerile.

The ANC Women’s League, chaired by the incompetent Bathabile Dlamini, is seen as having no independence as a result of its pandering to the political whims of Jacob Zuma. The League has given us no confidence that it could act energetically and decisively. They would have to stand up to many of their male colleagues.

Government needn’t do everything itself. There are many remarkable civil society organisations who could contribute.

Kenya has a similar problem to South Africa. It has employed Your Moment of Truth, a programme developed by No Means No Worldwide (NMNW), an NGO that works in the slums of Nairobi to prevent sexual assault on girls and women. The curriculum aims to change attitudes that lead adolescent boys and young men to think it is acceptable to assault or rape their female peers.

“It’s about really getting them invested in why they need to step up and care about violence toward women; it affects their mothers, sisters and girlfriends,” says lead author Jennifer Keller.

In an experiment in Kenya, 1 250 out of 1 543 males at 29 high schools between the ages of 15 and 22 received six two-hour educational sessions. The programme helped them to recognise the cultural normalisation of violence against women, and gain the skills and courage to stop it. Topics included myths about women, negative gender stereotypes, when and how to safely intervene if someone else is acting violently towards a woman, and what constitutes consent to sex.

The remaining 293 males at seven other high schools – the comparison group - received a two-hour life-skills class provided as part of Kenya’s Education Department curriculum.

The experimental group completed surveys before and after the programme – 4½ and nine months later. The comparison group completed surveys before receiving life-skills training and nine months later.

Initially, both groups held negative views of women. They agreed with the myths about sexual assault. Interestingly, the initial views of the control group were slightly better than those of the experimental group, possibly because they were slightly younger.

After the programme, the experimental group had more positive views toward women and less belief in rape myths. The improvement persisted 4½ and nine months later. The comparison group’s attitudes had not improved, or had even worsened, by the nine-month follow-up.

The experimental group was at least twice as likely to successfully stop assaults on women by other men. Unsurprisingly, NMNW found that it was easier to change negative gender stereotypes in younger males.

NMNW provided empowerment training for adolescent girls, significantly reducing their rate of rape. A short self-defence course dramatically reduced their vulnerability to sexual assault.

Of 522 high school girls between 14 and 21, 402 received 12 hours of self-defence training over six weeks, plus two-hour refresher courses at three-, six-, nine- and ten-month intervals.

The 120 girls in the control group received a one-hour life-skills class provided as part of Kenya’s Education Department curriculum.

At the start of the study, nearly one in four girls reported that they had been forced to have sex in the previous year – 90% knew their attackers.

The 402 girls were taught verbal and physical self-defence techniques. They were also given information about how to get help – in a culture in which discussing sexual assault is taboo – if they were assaulted.

Ten months later, 56.4% of the girls reported using what they had learned to fend off would-be attackers. The proportion who were raped fell from 24.6% in the year before the training to 9.2 percent in the 10-month period afterwards.

Half the girls used verbal defence skills alone, one-third started with verbal skills and added physical skills, and 17% used physical skills alone. Not only did total assaults drop sharply, but assaults by the two most common groups of perpetrators – boyfriends and relatives – decreased significantly.

After training, girls who were raped were more likely to seek help.

Amongst the 120 of the control group, however, the proportion who became victims of rape remained about the same.

A cursory look at 23 murders in South Africa (mostly preceded by rape) of girls and women aged between 2 and 36 between March 2017 and June 2017, revealed that only two were clearly committed by strangers. Two were unclear.

The number committed by a neighbour, boyfriend or father made up 19 of the cases. The majority of perpetrators were under 30.

The attitudes of those closest to us are our biggest threat. This means tackling our mores and customs. If we don’t deal with the issue by reasons of social convention, we won’t deal with it at all.

*Sara Gon is a Policy Fellow at the IRR, a think tank that promotes economic and political freedom. Follow the IRR on Twitter @IRR_SouthAfrica. 

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