Demographic and Rape Incident Characteristics of Treatment-Seeking Rape Survivors

In the post-apartheid era, high prevalence rates for rape have continually been reported in South Africa. However, surprisingly little is known about the demographic and rape incident characteristics of rape survivors in the country (that is- who is being raped and the types of rape they are experiencing).

Therefore, I conducted a study on the intake forms of treatment-seeking rape survivors at the Rape Crisis centre in Observatory in order to describe demographic and rape incident characteristics of treatment-seeking rape survivors, and to examine the associations between such characteristics. All information was kept strictly confidential and no identifying information was used. My hope was that such information would not only provide an indication of the victimology profiles of rape survivors in the country, but that it would also show who is not currently seeking treatment and for which types of rape treatment seeking is avoided. I believe that knowing such information can be a first step in identifying barriers that prevent survivors from seeking help so that these can be addressed, thus enhancing the uptake of post-sexual assault counselling.


The findings I will touch on are just a few among the many generated from this study. Expectedly, most of the survivors in this sample were female (95.8%). The majority of the sample was raped by a single, known perpetrator. This reflects global and South African findings that this is the most common type of rape experienced by women. Interestingly, I found that survivors who attend this centre are almost as likely to have been raped in the typically higher income, Southern suburbs as in the lower-income, South East geographic area. This is surprising, given that it has been documented that, in South Africa, women living in conditions of poverty are at highest risk for rape. However, this finding may be an artifact of the geographic location of the centre. The centre is in the Southern suburbs, and thus, regardless of their vulnerability to rape, people who have been raped in the Southern suburbs have easy access to it. The finding does however challenge the prevailing stereotype that rape survivors in South Africa tend to be from lower socio-economic contexts.

The study also revealed relationships between variables. For example, race predicted whether the perpetrator’s identity was known, in that black African rape survivors were least likely to know the identity of the perpetrator. This may indicate that black African people are the most vulnerable to rape by strangers. Results showed a relationship between gender and perpetrator identity, in that females were more likely than males to know their perpetrator’s identity. Additionally, single perpetrators were more often known to survivors than were multiple perpetrators, but were less likely to use a weapon than were multiple perpetrators. This is consistent with South African literature that points to women frequently being sexually assaulted by their husbands and partners, with the use of psychological coercion.

The results of this study also indicate who is not currently seeking treatment and for which types of rape treatment seeking is avoided. Knowing this information can help to address poor mental health service uptake rates. To give an example, the low number of males in the sample reflects findings that suggest that male rape survivors may be less likely to seek help than their female counterparts due to negative perceptions concerning male rape. This highlights a need to educate people about male rape, so that these perceptions are eliminated and more men feel empowered enough to seek post-sexual assault counselling.

While the findings generated from this study are not generalisable beyond this particular treatment-seeking sample, they provide an indication of the victimology profiles of rape survivors in the country, and of what needs to be addressed. In my opinion, further studies looking at other rape crisis centres in South Africa can generalize, and make more reliable, the results of this study. In a country with such a high prevalence of rape, I believe that gaining as much information as possible about rape survivors is crucial.

Meredith Forbes

Meredith graduated from the University of Cape Town last year with an Honours in Psychology and hopes to become a clinical psychologist in the future. Her passion lies in trauma and trauma counselling.


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About rapecrisisblog

We have a vision of a South Africa in which rape survivors suffer no secondary trauma, and are supported throughout their interaction with the Criminal Justice System (CJS). Our mission is to promote an end to violence against women, specifically rape, and to assist women to achieve their right to live free from violence. Rape Crisis Cape Town seeks to achieve its mission through counselling and training of women, thereby reducing the trauma experienced by rape survivors, and encouraging reporting of rape and the conviction of rapists.

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