Two out of five male South African schoolchildren say they have been raped, according to a study published on Tuesday suggesting sexual abuse of boys is endemic in the country’s schools.
The study was conducted in South Africa in 2002 and 2003.
Published in BioMed Central’s International Journal for Equity in Health, the survey shows that boys are most frequently assaulted by adult women, followed closely by other schoolchildren.
”This study uncovers endemic sexual abuse of male children that was suspected but hitherto only poorly documented,” Neil Andersson and Ari Ho-Foster of the Centre for Tropical Disease Research (CIET) Johannesburg say in the study.
The findings highlight the need to raise awareness about the rape of male children, and push for further efforts to prevent sexual violence in South Africa.
”I think the main point in this research is that rape is not a problem that affects girls only; boys also face it and the problem is that male rape victims often become perpetrators of sexual violence at a later stage in their lives,” said Anne Cockcroft, senior research fellow at the CIET.
The survey, carried out in 1 200 schools across the country, asked 127 000 boys aged between 10 and 19 if they had ever been sexually abused and, if so, by whom.
Cockcroft told the Mail & Guardian Online that the surveys were done via classroom facilitations as opposed to one-on-one interviews.
”We tried to make them feel comfortable and keep anonymity of their identity so that we could get accurate answers from them,” she said.
”It is still hard to say whether they were being honest or not because rape is an embarrassing thing for boys to talk about, but at the same time it is unlikely that they may have said that they had been raped if they had not.”
Forty-four percent of 18-year-olds said they had been forced to have sex in their lives, and half reported consensual sex.
About one-third said they had been abused by males and 41% by females; 27% said they had been raped by both males and females. The study did not look at the number of girls who were raped.
Abuse by fellow males was more common in rural areas, while attacks by women happened mainly in cities, the study found.
There was also a big disparity between provinces with Limpopo — among the poorest — showing the highest abuse rate of 16,1% (7 653 reportedly raped) and Western Cape the lowest at 4,8% (109 reportedly raped). In Gauteng, 8,3% said they had been raped.
Cockcroft said that the research reflects South African population of school-going males from grade six and older. ”Surveys were conducted in all areas: affluent, urban rural and township. The research thoroughly considered South African demographics,” she said, adding that the statistics were not measured against those provided by police.
”Very few male rape cases are reported to police, so there will definitely be a discrepancy between our stats and police stats. Police statistics are usually the tip of the iceberg anyway,” she said.