South Africa: Sexual Violence in South Johannesburg, 1997-2000

The completion in June 2000 of a three-year cycle of research into sexual violence in Johannesburg’s Southern Metropolitan Local Council area revealed that communities in this region had internalised sexual violence to the extent that they saw it as inevitable and even normal.

In the face of the sheer frequency of sexual violence in these environments, women and young girls in particular had developed adaptive behaviours that reduced the perceived threat of such violence to a level they felt they could survive. By seeming to accept – and in some cases even approve of – sexual violence, they were able to avoid perceiving themselves as victims of a phenomenon they could not control.

Beginning in 1998, three cycles of fact-finding and feedback covered the full spectrum of communities in South Johannesburg, with a cross-design method to get different types of evidence through different channels: a house-to-house survey, a questionnaire administered to men in the streets, questionnaires filled in by youth in the schools nearest each sentinel community and gender-stratified focus groups. In addition, members of the South African Police Service (SAPS) from 14 police stations serving the area responded to interviews, and magistrates, prosecutors and service workers (district surgeons, nurses, women’s organisations and social workers) all gave similar interviews.

In 1999, fieldworkers took the results of the baseline survey back to the participating schools in a form of participatory drama. Before the beginning of this in each school, 9,555 youth filled in a self-administered questionnaire.

In 2000, CIET repeated the school-based survey in the schools that had participated in 1999, and extended it to several others to provide a fuller and representative view of the youth of the region. This time 16,338 youth participated, and 42 female and 21 male focus groups discussed the concepts and language underlying the culture of sexual violence. As in 1998, data were obtained from the South African Police Crime Information Management System (SAPCIMS). In addition, the research team went to each of the 38 sentinel communities to document the existence and histories of community-based initiatives (CBIs) that had started since the 1998 baseline survey.

A summary of the report, “Beyond Victims and Villains: South Johannesburg 1997-2000” is available from the Library.