Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Sexual Violence and the Limits of Laws' Powers to Alter Behaviour: The Case of South Africa

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Sexual Violence and the Limits of Laws' Powers to Alter Behaviour: The Case of South Africa

Article excerpt


Sexual violence is an epidemic that is commonly viewed as a violation of basic human rights (Shepard 8), but persists through time, changes in economies and changes in governments (United Nations General Assembly 2). It is a global problem that is considered intolerable yet such violence, whether perpetrated by the State, its agents, by family members or strangers, whether in the public or private eye, in times of peace or in times of conflict, (Dartnall and Jewkes 10) continues to be effected on a large scale (United Nations General Assembly 14). Globally, the prevalence of sexual violence shows that 35.6 percent of women have experienced some form of sexual violence, whilst regional estimates show prevalence rates ranging from 27.2 percent to 45.6 percent (WHO, Global and Regional Estimates of Violence against Women 20). Violence on such a large scale leads to inequalities and discrimination of its victims and has dire consequences (Holmes et al 321). It is the obligation of States to protect women from violence, to hold perpetrators accountable and to provide justice and remedies to victims (Legal Action Worldwide 1).

Since the eradication of sexual violence continues to be one of the greatest challenges of today, updated and updating knowledge of this crime through research, records and literature reviews can be used as a tool to help place countries in a better position to eliminate this scourge (United Nations Population Fund 2). When violence against women and children is allowed to fester no real progress towards equality, development and peace can be achieved (United Nations General Assembly 15).

Differences in gender roles and behaviors give rise to inequalities and disadvantages, wherein these differences allow one gender to become more powerful than the other. Across cultures, attitudes toward gender affect perceptions of the male-female relationships (Gurvinder and Bhugra 244). This subsequently affects how the offenders of sexual violence and their victims are viewed. This is evident from societies that view women as subordinate to men; as having a lower social status with no decision-making powers and thereby giving men control over women (WHO Promoting gender equality to prevent violence against women 3). Sexual violence occurs in all cultures across the globe (Rozee 499) with differing explanations of what exactly does constitute sexual violence (Heise, Moore and Toubia 12). The World Health Organization (WHO) defines sexual violence as:

"any sexual act or an attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual
comments, or advances, acts to traffic or otherwise directed, against a
person's sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their
relationship to the victim in any setting, including but not limited to
home and work" (2).

South Africa (SA) has one of the highest rates of sexual offences globally (United States Government Report 3). It is a country that is currently struggling to balance one of the most inclusive and progressive Constitutions in the world (Kruger 1), with its largely patriarchal and culture driven society (Coetzee 300). Sexual violence against women and children within the South African context is occurring on such a large scale that it has been reported that it appears to be "socially normalized, legitimized and accompanied by a culture of acceptance" (Blanchfield 3). Its enormous scale is indicative that society's beliefs of what does and does not constitute rape may be legitimizing acts of sexual violence or providing a space for these crimes to occur (Jewkes, Penn-Kekana and Rose-Junius 1810). The underlying challenges and its causes within this society must consequently be understood (United Nations, Report of the committee on the elimination of discrimination against women).

Purpose of this Article

Based on the principles in the South African Constitution, the government has enacted a fairly progressive legislative framework and has adopted policies, programme and plans of action aimed at ending sexual violence, including various sexual offences legislation, specialized sexual offences courts and a comprehensive National Policy Guidelines for Victims of Sexual Offences (Kruger 2). …

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