It wasn’t a rape that would have ever made the headlines, had it not been for the cell phone.
The victim: a 17-year-old girl, reportedly mentally ill, the daughter of a domestic worker. The alleged perpetrators: boys and men aged 14 to 20.
As she cried and pleaded with them, they urged one another on, joked and speculated as to whether she was really crying. Then they offered her about 25 cents for her silence.
In what some are calling an epidemic of unreported sex crimes, an estimated 600,000 rapes occur every year in South Africa.
What made this Johannesburg case different was the cellphone. One of the perpetrators recorded the March 31 rape, which took place in an open field, in a video that lasted 10 minutes and 33 seconds, and a second incident in which the group raped the girl in a township shack.
The rape video was spread from phone to phone, reportedly appearing on Facebook. It eventually fell into the hands of a daily newspaper and from there was handed to the police, who Tuesday arrested a group of alleged attackers, seven of whom are due to appear in court Thursday.
The Soweto girl, who had been missing since March 21, was found Wednesday, according to South African officials. According to local media reports, she was in the shack of a 37-year-old man who has been charged with abduction and statutory rape.
According to the South African Medical Research Council, only one in nine South African rapes are reported. In 2010-11 there were 66,196 sex offenses in South Africa, according to police statistics, with the worst rates in the Northern Cape province: 168 cases per 100,000 people.
“When something like this video happens, you realize how firmly entrenched the culture of impunity is in this country, that these boys possibly didn’t realize that what they were doing was wrong and that they thought they could get away with it and if they didn’t get away with it, they didn’t think they would be seriously punished for it,” Kathleen Dey, director of Rape Crisis in Cape Town, an organization that counsels victims of rape and sex abuse, said in a phone interview.
“Cases like this shine a light on ordinary rapes that happen every day in South Africa, not that rape is ever ordinary. Forgive me for saying ordinary, but it happens every day.”
Dey blamed social attitudes toward gender and crimes against women, early sexualization of children globally, an overloaded criminal justice system in South Africa and low conviction rates for rape.