Human Rights South Africa 


Results just released from a study conducted by the University of Witwatersrand and Sonke Gender Justice with 2600 men in Diepsloot, a peri-urban settlement north of Johannesburg,  reveal some of the highest levels of men’s violence against women ever recorded in South Africa[1]. These levels of violence represent a state of emergency for women in Diepsloot. Our study shows that this violence is caused by multiple factors. Most important amongst these are inequitable and harmful gender norms that grant men a sense of permission to use violence against women. This is compounded by widespread trauma and mental health problems amongst many men, a high concentration of alcohol outlets and pervasive binge drinking by men,  inadequate criminal justice system responses that do little to deter men’s violence, little use of violence prevention strategies, and an urban environment that contains many risks for women, including poor lighting, toilets and sanitation services far from homes, and narrow roads that restrict police movements. Government has an urgent obligation to address these root causes of men’s widespread use of violence against women. We call on government to act immediately.

The survey was conducted with 2600 men in Diepsloot between the ages of 18 to 40 years old as part of the Sonke CHANGE Trial. A majority lived in a shack or single room. Men had an average monthly income of R1500 and half had been employed in the past 3 months. Less than half of men finished high school and nearly half experienced food insecurity.

Fully fifty six percent of the men interviewed, reported that they have either raped or beaten a woman in the last twelve months. Of those men using recent violence, sixty percent committed multiple acts of violence against women during that period. This is more than double the rates reported in other national studies on GBV.

Our research reveals a strong association between men’s use of violence against women and their beliefs and expectations about men and women’s roles and rights in society. For instance, one-third of men believe that wives should not be able to refuse sex, more than half expect their partner to agree to sex when the man wants it, and a majority of men control the clothes a woman wears, the friends she sees, or where she goes. Although there are many evidence-based approaches to changing such harmful norms, government is not currently implementing any such approaches in Diepsloot. Holding beliefs that are gender inequitable increased use of violence against women by 50%. Controlling a partner doubled the odds that men used violence in the past year.

Our research also showed a strong association between men’s own prior exposure to violence and their subsequent use of violence. Men experiencing child abuse were 5 times as likely to use recent violence against women. Worryingly, the majority of men interviewed experienced at least one type of physical or sexual childhood abuse. More than one-third had been raped or molested as a child, and more than half of men experienced one or more adult traumas such as witnessing a rape or murder or being tortured, raped, or robbed at gunpoint. Men with signs of depression were three times as likely to use recent violence. Men reporting adult trauma were 2.6 times as likely. There are no public mental health services available in Diepsloot to address the mental health consequences of such widespread exposure to generalised violence.

Predictably, problem drinking increased use of recent violence by 50%. Alarmingly, three-quarters of men report problem drinking – binge or frequent drinking that interferes with daily lives. A preliminary social audit of the project sites in Diepsloot revealed approximately 63 formally registered taverns, and more than twice as many illegal taverns. Like in most other parts of the country, enforcement of the Liquor Act is lax, not enough is done to reduce alcohol outlet density or monitor whether taverns do what is required of them to decrease alcohol abuse or address the relationship between alcohol abuse and anti-social behaviour, and very few services exist to address alcohol abuse.

Men reporting recent violence against women were more likely to live in crowded households and live apart from their partner. They were less likely to hold matric and were slightly younger. Having food security reduced odds of recent violence by 40%.

The levels of violence against women reported in Diepsloot represents a state of emergency for victims and survivors of this violence. They experience serious long-term physical and psychological harm. They experience ongoing fear of repeat victimisation, with little reason to believe that perpetrators will be apprehended or held accountable or that potential perpetrators will be deterred from using violence against them.

Services for survivors of violence in Diepsloot remain few and far between, and are mostly provided by NGOs who often struggle to access reliable funding from the Department of Social Development. There is no post-rape care in Diepsloot. The nearest Thuthuzela Care Centre (TCCs) is located at Tembisa Hospital, approximately 30km away. This means rape victims are forced to travel long distances to access post-rape care or to attend court cases. According to SAPS reports, of the 500 sexual assault cases reported in Diepsloot since 2013, there has been just one conviction.

Children exposed to this violence in the home and community are far more likely to themselves become involved in violence later in life–boys as perpetrators and girls as victims–and are at increased risk of experiencing a host of other social problems including psychological distress, alcohol abuse, poor school performance, and increased involvement in crime, including interpersonal violence.

Despite other high profile cases of domestic and sexual violence homicide in Diepsloot, including most notably the abduction, rape and murder of two infants who were subsequently found dead in a pit latrine in November 2013, not enough has been done to respond to and prevent rape and domestic violence in the area.

We urge government to take the following steps: ensure survivors have access to vital health and criminal justice services, the criminal justice system hold perpetrators to account and ensures swift access to justice for survivors, roll out evidence-based violence prevention interventions, including those that challenge inequitable and violent gender norms, provide mental health services for those exposed to violence, and address environmental risk factors like poor lighting and sanitation services.

This year, we celebrate the 20th anniversary of our Constitution. The rights guaranteed there to equality, health and freedom from violence are in short supply for women in Diepsloot. We know what causes the violence and what’s needed to prevent it. It’s time for urgent action.

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