Why, when and how men rape: Understanding rape perpetration in South Africa


  • Rachel Jewkes Medical Research Council and University of the Witwatersrand.
  • Yandisa Sikweyiya Medical Research Council
  • Robert Morrell University of Cape Town
  • Kristin Dunkle Emory University




rape, crime, violence, South Africa, Eastern Cape, Kwazulu-Natal, gender, behaviour


This article reports the findings of research conducted with a randomly selected sample of men aged 18–49 years from the general population of the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, who were asked in an anonymously conducted survey about their rape perpetration practices, motivations, and consequences thereof. Overall 27,6 per cent (466/1686) of men had forced a woman to have sex with them against her will, whether an intimate partner, stranger or acquaintance. Some perpetrated alone, others with accomplices. Most men who had raped had done so more than once, started as teenagers, and often had different types of victims. Asked about motivations, men indicated that rape most commonly stemmed from a sense of sexual entitlement, and it was often an act of bored men (alone or in groups) seeking entertainment. Rape was often also a punishment directed against girlfriends and other women, and alcohol was often part of the context. A third of men had experienced no consequences from their acts, not even feelings of guilt. More commonly there was remorse and worry about consequences, and in a third of cases there had been action against them from their family, that of the victims, or respected community members, and about one in five had been arrested for rape. This research confirms that rape is highly prevalent in South Africa, with only a small proportion of incidents reported to the police. Many of the roots of the problem lie in our accentuated gender hierarchy. This highlights the importance of interventions and policies that start in childhood and seek to change the way in which boys are socialised into men, building ideas of gender equity and respect for women.


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Author Biographies

Rachel Jewkes, Medical Research Council and University of the Witwatersrand.

Gender & Health Research Unit and School of Public Health

Yandisa Sikweyiya, Medical Research Council

Gender & Health Research Unit

Robert Morrell, University of Cape Town

Research Office

Kristin Dunkle, Emory University

Rollins School of Public Health






Research articles