Academic journal article Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Sexual Violence against Intimate Partners in Cape Town: Prevalence and Risk Factors Reported by Men

Academic journal article Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Sexual Violence against Intimate Partners in Cape Town: Prevalence and Risk Factors Reported by Men

Article excerpt


The World report on violence and health highlighted both the impact of sexual violence on public health and the scantiness of the research base on which to build an understanding of the problem and develop interventions (1). Whereas sexual violence is ultimately a product of male behaviour, most research on such violence has been concerned with the women who experience it. This has contributed little towards an understanding of the most important risk factors. Studies on women predict very little of their risk of sexual violence and point to the need for research on men. (2).

Research on men's sexual violence towards women has mainly been conducted in developed countries on populations of mostly young college students, men in the military or men in treatment programmes (3-6). The relevance of the findings to the developing world are unclear. Studies have been conducted in India on the prevalence of and risk factors for sexual violence against intimate partners (7) and on the association between sexual behaviour and reproductive outcomes (8); 7% of husbands reported that at some time they had physically forced sex on their wives, and ii emerged that this was more common among husbands who reported having extramarital sex and those who reported symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases than among other husbands.

Rape and sexual coercion in South Africa have been highlighted in several studies (9-12). Rape by non-partners has received considerable attention in the media but sexual violence perpetrated by intimate partners is believed to be more common (12). Most of the research on this topic in South Africa has focused on women as subjects and on physical intimate partner violence (13). The present study, while recognizing that there is substantial overlapping between the emotional, physical and sexual types of intimate partner violence, focuses on sexual violence perpetrated by men and describes the prevalence of and risk factors for such violence against intimate partners.


A cross-sectional study of men working in three of the six municipalities in Cape Town was conducted between June 1998 and February 1999. The sampling frame was a list of male employees working in the Civil Engineering, Water and Cleansing, and Parks and Recreation Divisions. A computer-generated random sample of 600 names from each of the three municipalities was obtained, giving a total of 1800 names. Of these, 37 were women's names, 28 were of men who reported no female partners, 66 were of men who refused to participate, 283 were of men who were unavailable because of absenteeism or leave, and 18 were of men with whom incomplete interviews were conducted. Thus an overall response rate of 78.8% was achieved and the analysis was based on 1368 interviews. The data were collected by trained male personnel in face-to-face interviews conducted in Afrikaans, Xhosa of English, depending on which was preferred by the interviewees, with the aid of a structured questionnaire.

The choice of variables for the identification of risk factors was based on the integrated ecological model developed by Heise (14) and on previous work with men (15). Sociodemographic variables included age, ethnicity, education, occupation and type of housing. The following childhood variables were used: the presence of a father during childhood; childhood discipline, including physical punishment, classified as frequent (daily/ weekly) or infrequent; and witnessing abuse perpetrated against a mother. Perceptions on the acceptance of violence, and gender roles in relationships, were measured on two composite scales. Ah 18-item scale measured the acceptance of violence by representing various scenarios, and an 11-item scale, adapted from Rouse (16), measured views on gender roles: the corresponding values of Cronbach's alpha coefficient were 0.75 and 0.71. The interviewees were asked whether they considered it acceptable to bit a woman. …

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