This week I read a couple of articles that related news about sexual violence in several African nations. My eye always catches on these pieces because I have been involved in activism against sexual assault for about five years now. The first story was contained in little more than a paragraph in the New York Times. The content, however, was chilling. The piece was brief, so I’ve included it in its entirety:

 Violence has become so pervasive in South African schools that children as young as 7 play games such as “rape me, rape me,” where students simulate sexual attacks,” according to a chilling report issued Wednesday by the nation’s human rights commission.       

The research, which took 18 months to complete, was mostly done in Western Cape province.

Statistics were in short supply because most assaults in schools go unreported, the commission said. But the report asserted that physical attacks were alarmingly commonplace, including a phenomenon known as “corrective rape” where boys assault lesbian students to try to turn them into heterosexuals.

 Let’s place this in context: South Africa is a nation of 43 million people, where sexual violence is on the rise. In 1992 the number of reported rapes and assaults was listed at 42,429. By 2005, the number was up to 55,114. While reported rapes and sexual assaults are one indicator of levels of violence, a 2002 report by the Medical Research Council notes that only one in nine women reports her assault to police. Add to that the fact that only 7.6 percent of trial cases end with a defendant found guilty. The picture becomes clearer, and we begin to understand a seemingly incomprehensible news story.

If South African youth are growing up in a culture where sexual violence is increasingly prevalent, and punishment for offenders is extremely unlikely, perhaps it is not surprising that some children mimic the worst of what they see in the adult world. For a somewhat dated but excellent report on rape culture in Johannesburg, see this BBC article.

The second story I came across was on Ann Jones’ blog for the International Rescue Committee. Currently based in Sierra Leone, and working to implement a great project that I’ve talked up on here before, she relates what was ultimately a success story in the prosecution of a man who raped a seven-year-old. Her account details the obstacles created by the court system in Sierra Leone, and the powerful way that a group of women and men came together to fight for justice for the child.

The last article I’ll cover is about the creation of a special court for sexual violence in Liberia. Since the end of the civil war, rape has continued to be a serious problem, and delays in prosecution have led to impunity for offenders. Women’s rights groups advocated for two years to have this special court created, and it is finally being built. I think I’ll end on that positive note.



In the same vein, this is the plaque outside of Liberia’s Temple of Justice, which used to read “Let Justice be Done to All Men.” It will now read, “Let Justice be Done to All.”*

 *picture respectfully pilfered from Liberia Stories