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Ghanotakis Et Al Agenda 74 Stop Prison Rape in South Africa 2007

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Stop prison rape in South Africa
Elena Ghanotakis, Marianne Bruins, Dean Peacock, Jean Redpath, and Raoul Swart

abstract
South Africa has some of the highest rates of rape in the world. Activists have drawn attention to the devastating effect this has
on women and children. However, insufficient attention has been paid to rape - predominantly of men - in prisons. This article
aims to educate gender activists about the phenomenon of prison rape in the context of South Africa. It hopes to make the case
that prison rape reflects and reinforces rape culture in South Africa (and elsewhere). In so doing, it aims to galvanise action to
prevent prison rape and all forms of rape.

keywords
prison rape, human rights, masculinity, health, violence against women

‘No one truly knows a nation until one has been

in prisons is often joked about as though it is a

inside its jails. A nation should not be judged

predictable part of the sentence, the spectre of

by how it treats its highest citizens but its

which might serve as a useful deterrent against

lowest ones.’ Nelson Mandela, A Long Walk to

criminal behaviour.

Freedom.

While some anti-rape activists have begun to

South Africa has some of the highest rates

meet the needs of prison rape survivors, in general

of rape in the world. Activists have appropriately

organisations working to end sexual violence

drawn attention to the devastating effect this has

in South Africa have focused on responding to

on women and children and have made explicit

endemic violence against women and children.

the links between sexual violence, a culture of

We argue here that there are a number of

male entitlement to women’s bodies and high

reasons why gender, HIV/AIDS and human rights

rates of HIV infection and the limited effect of

activists should pay attention to prison rape. Firstly,

HIV prevention. However, insufficient sustained

the continued existence of prison rape constitutes

attention has been paid to rape – predominantly of

a gross human rights violation. Secondly, prison

men – in prisons.

rape represents a threat to our attempts to build

Rape in prisons elicits little concern in most

and entrench a human rights culture. Thirdly,

societies – South Africa included. Instead, rape

the phenomenon of prison rape provides useful

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AGENDA 74 2007

article

insights into gender theory and constructions
of masculinity. Fourth, prison rape contributes
to a range of public health problems. Fifth,
prison rape contributes to violence against
women.
This article aims to educate gender activists
about the phenomenon of prison rape in the
context of South Africa. We hope to make the
case that prison rape reflects and reinforces
rape culture in South Africa (and elsewhere). In
so doing, we aim to galvanise action to prevent
prison rape and all forms of rape.

Research methods
The authors used four forms of data collection.
Firstly, we conducted a desk review of reports and
official documents published on prison conditions
in South Africa and a broad review of literature
pertaining to sexual violence in South African
ARTWORKS

prisons.
Secondly, we reviewed interviews with
inmates, Department of Correctional Services
(DCS) officials, health officials and independent

Prison rape is a gross violation of human rights.

prison visitors conducted by Elena Ghanotakis in
2004 and 2005 to understand their perspectives
on rape in prisons. All interviewees signed consent
forms in which they released the information

in prison impinges on these rights.

they shared to be used for purposes of raising

The South African Constitution of 1996

awareness. Thirdly, using a snowball methodology,

includes a modern set of rights in its chapter 2,

we interviewed researchers and activists working

the Bill of Rights which states that:

in prisons or on prison reform in South Africa.
Consent forms and information about the study

‘Everyone who is detained, including every

were handed out and signed by interviewees.

sentenced prisoner, has the right to conditions
of detention that are consistent with human

Background

dignity, including at least exercise and the

Prisoners form one of society’s most marginalised

provision, at state expense, of adequate

groups. Perhaps contrary to common belief,

accommodation, nutrition, reading material

prisoners retain all rights except those curtailed to

and medical treatment.’ (Constitution, 2006).

implement the imposed sentence. South African
jurisprudence has supported this view on numerous

It also states that ‘Everyone has the right to bodily

occasions (Berg, 2007). The state thus has a duty to

and psychological integrity’, which includes the

care for prisoners in a manner that does not violate

right to security in and control over their body.

their rights. The practice and threat of being raped

In addition to the South African Constitution, a

Stop prison rape in South Africa

69

article

range of international conventions ratified by South

As a result, conditions in many prisons

Africa protect the rights of prisoners, including: the

frequently fail to meet the minimum standards

Convention against Torture (CAT, ratified by South

established in national and international legislation

Africa in 1998); the International Covenant on Civil

and declarations and represent serious breaches of

and Political Rights (ICCPR, ratified in 1998); the

rights enshrined in the South African Constitution.

African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (the

The Report of the Office of the Inspecting Judge

Banjul Charter, ratified in 1996) and, for prisoners

provides a clear picture of the conditions faced by

under 18, the Convention on the Rights of the

some inmates: ‘Examples in recent reports are:

Child (ratified in 1995).

medium and maximum prisoners being mixed; 44

Despite clear constitutional requirements that

beds for 100 inmates; about 74 inmates in cells

the state has a duty to protect inmates from

for 16…; sharing of beds’ (Judicial Inspectorate

violence and provide humane prisons conditions

of Prisons 2006).

in South African prisons over the last decade have
worsened largely due to chronic overcrowding.

These conditions and a litany of scandals
emanating from Correctional Services in the late
1990s and early 2000s drew significant public

South Africa has the largest number of inmates
of any African nation and the ninth largest
prison population in the world

attention to the dismal state of South Africa’s
prisons. To address this, the South African
Government appointed the Jali Commission of
Inquiry in 20011 to investigate prison conditions
and to issue recommendations for improving

In line with trends in countries with punitive

the state of South Africa’s prisons. As part of its

sentencing regimes such as the United States, the

mandate, the Jali Commission was tasked with

post-1994 period saw a rapid increase in South

examining sexual violence in South African prisons

Africa’s prison population, particularly amongst the

and recommending strategies to prevent it2.

sentenced population. A large proportion (currently

During the Jali Commission the South African

30 percent) of ‘awaiting trial’ or ‘unsentenced’

public heard many chilling stories of pervasive

inmates remains cause for concern.

In 1995,

prison rape – including stories of some inmates

South African prisons held 111 090 prisoners.

deliberately raping others to infect them with

Within nine years that number increased to

HIV – a practice reportedly known as a ‘slow

186 468 giving South Africa the dubious distinction

puncture’ (Reuters, 2001).

of having the largest number of inmates of

Jali Commission presents evidence that rape

any African nation and the ninth largest prison

is rampant in prison, in which the Commission

population in the world (Sloth-Nielsen, 2007).

expresses its concern:

Chapter 8 of the

While the total prison population is now
somewhat reduced to 159 713 (April 2007), largely

‘… if the Department [of Correctional Services]

due to special remissions of sentence, this still

keeps on ignoring the fact that sexual abuse

represents 41 percent more prisoners than the actual

is rife in our Prisons and that there is an

capacity of South African prisons (114 549). This

extreme likelihood that prisoners who are

growth in the prison population has led to chronic

exposed to violent unprotected sex will in all

overcrowding, which is exacerbated by varying levels

likelihood contract AIDS, then it is effectively,

of overcrowding among prisons – some prisons are

by omission, imposing a death sentence on

vastly more overcrowded than others – the worst are

vulnerable prisoners (Jali Commission, Chapter

occupied in excess of triple capacity.

8, page 43).

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AGENDA 74 2007

Sexual violence is rampant in

received since the Jali Commission hearings, this

South African prisons

article examines the period 2001 to the present

Testimonies of inmates in South African prisons

and attempts to identify what has been done

suggest that sexual violence continues to be

by government and civil society organisations to

rampant:

article

Given the limited public attention prison rape has

address prison rape since the Jali Commission
was appointed.

‘There is a lot of rape going on in prison’

Findings

A South African prison warden describes how

The Jali Commission was appointed in August

quickly someone can get raped once they enter

2001 to investigate and report on corruption,

the prison system:

maladministration, violence and intimidation by
the Department of Correctional Services and

‘There is one communal cell, which is a court

handed in its final report on December 2005. It

cell. Everybody going to court tomorrow will

was presented to the public in November 2006.

sleep in that cell. And during that sleepover,

This substantial report devotes a chapter to Sexual

you know, “things” happen there. So he arrives

Violence and seems to set out an honest and

there in court as the perpetrator in any case, but

well-informed description of the pervasiveness

he arrives there being the victim of male rape in

of the problem in South Africa’s prisons. The

prison last night. So he has been branded as the

Commission does not hide its deep concerns

perpetrator coming to prison, but he can arrive at

when it speaks about:

court or at home as the victim because of what
happened to him in prison.’

‘the horrific scourge of sexual violence that
plagues our Prisons where appalling abuses
and acts of sexual perversion are perpetrated
on helpless and unprotected prisoners’ (Jali

He has been branded as the perpetrator coming
to prison, but he can arrive at court
or at home as the victim

Commission, 2005).
The Jali Commission has also addressed the

An inmate discusses what happens when people

existence of gangs in prisons and the ongoing

first come to prison and how this experience can

overcrowding in South Africa’s prison system.

change a person’s life:

These

phenomena

clearly

perpetuate

and

exacerbate the problem of rape in prison. The

‘A person comes to prison, he doesn’t have

report generally describes a culture of lawlessness

a clue really what prison is about. He’s being

in the prisons. The effect of this on the prevalence

exposed to people that are in prison for rape,

of rape is obvious.

murder, you name it. At the end of the day

The DCS staff and inmates interviewed

he comes out with a court sentence and with

for this article corroborated the findings of the

the new system in place, the court sentences

Jali Commission and were critical of the

you to seven days, where after seven days,

Department’s attempts to address the problem

you have to go to court arraignment. What

of prison rape. From the interviews the following

happens in those seven days, it changes a

description of the reality in the prisons was

person’s life. Prisoners get in the court cells.

deducted:

There is a possibility to be raped.

And he

Stop prison rape in South Africa

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comes to prison and in those seven days, he is

do it because you are afraid something will

exposed to so many criminal activities. When

happen... you will get hurt or you can get

he gets out, he probably doesn’t have a job

killed. So, if someone wants to abuse you

anymore. So there’s only one way out. He’s

sexually, you must just go with it... no matter

going to put the things he learned to test now.

if you doesn’t agree or what... they will do it

And that person gets out and rapes innocent

with force upon you.’

people, you know babies, because for him it’s
As a result, few victims do report prison rape,

normal, he’s been raped in prison.’

which obstructs the collection of evidence on
Intimidation and violence surrounding

the extent of prison rape. The recent former

sexual violence persist

Judicial Inspectorate of Prisons provided insight

Testimonies of inmates in South African prisons

into issues surrounding the reporting of prison

suggest that intimidation and violence continue to

rape cases:

be associated with rape.
One key informant working in the prison

‘The criminal trials resulting from prison rape,

alluded to the intimidation that occurs in the

is very little from my own experience. The

prisons:

few that you have is negligible – that means
they barely go to trial. What we often find at

‘The cases are withdrawn because of

the inspectorate is that the person would have

intimidation by the gangs.

lodged a complaint and then withdraw the

Most of the
They

complaint or come forward and say “We’ve

are sometimes committed individually – an

solved it”. But we also know that it being

individual perpetrator, sometimes two or

linked to gangster activity in prisons, there is a

three together, but there is always threat and

lot of pressure on that victim coming forward

intimidation and often beating that goes on

and going through with the charges.’

rapes are committed by the gangs.

around that rape.

People don’t just give in

straight away. This is a very unpleasant thing.

Although very few statistics are available on

Nobody wants to be raped. And they put up

prison rape and reporting to authorities, a study

often quite a fight, but they are intimidated or

done by the Centre for the Study of Violence and

they are threatened before the rape and then

Reconciliation in Boksburg Youth Centre revealed

of course after the rape. They are not allowed

that 58 percent of recent assaults were not

to tell because they will be killed or they are

reported by the victim (Gear & Isserov, 2006).

not allowed to tell because this will happen.

A doctor at a trauma hospital in the Western

They have already been beaten, they have

Cape gave an account of a rape survivor he

already been raped. Many of them then decide

treated, which provides insight into the challenges

it is not worth telling.’

in collecting proper evidence of rape in the prison
context:

‘If the gangs find out (that you report rape)
they will stand up they will stab you with

‘It was after he was released and he spent

knives or they will kill you if they get chance

time at hospital for psychiatric observation that

to kill you.’

he actually spoke about it and the caretakers
of the hospital brought him where I saw

‘If they just say you must do that, you must

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AGENDA 74 2007

the patient. Now the fact that the rape had

article

happened for a few weeks in prison and over
two weeks ago, there was nothing I could do
to collect medical evidence other than noting
that his perineum was bruised and had scars
of violation.’
Male rape is not recognised as such in South
Africa and there is no data on prison rape
An attorney for the National Prosecuting Authority
explained the problem that male rape is not
recognised as such in South Africa:
‘I must admit that I have only ever dealt with
the male on male rapes (in prison), which as
you know in the law at this stage is not really
recognised as such yet.’
Key informants indicated that there are no official
statistics on rape, and that there are no specific
ARTWORKS

programmes that address rape in prison. As one
informant said: ‘We sit still in a journey, while
anything happens.’ One informant calculated a
sexual assault rate of ‘at least 50 percent’.

Male rape is not recognised in South Africa.

The Sexual Offences Bill, which extends the
definition of rape, could have a positive effect on
the perception of male rape and the collection of
data.
people. So that is the thing that is concerning
There are major staffing issues, including

by the wardens also that is working on the

shortages and corruption, which exacerbate

sex and what to do they don’t know because

the situation in relation to prison rape

every day they come with new inmates,
every day there is new inmates, so they must

‘We are supposed to have a clinical psychologist

accommodate the people.’

on the rotation. I haven’t even met that person
so I don’t know if that person sees any of my

As determinants of overcrowding key informants

prisoners.’

brought up the lack of places of safety for young
offenders, forcing them into the prisons, where

An inmate describes overcrowding and staff

they are a vulnerable group when it comes to

shortages:

sexual violence. Informants are especially worried
about the combination of the overcrowded cells

’There’s almost no place for the people

and the early lockup of inmates (after which

because we are sleeping in rooms that they

the wardens are literally invisible to inmates

accommodated for 24 people and we are 40-50

and vice versa). Even though constructive

Stop prison rape in South Africa

73

article

programmes have been offered throughout the

professionals) with 3 927 posts vacant – and

morning and early afternoon, the early lockup in

only 30 809 of 33 074 correctional official posts

the overcrowded cells means that ‘everything

are filled, so that the national average ratio of

constructive that has been done during the day

correctional officials to prisoners is in the region

can be undone after that’.

of almost 6:1, and much higher in overcrowded

One key informant described how prison

facilities (Department of Correctional Services,

staff facilitate an environment for sexual abuse

2007). Shift work would also imply an even higher

to flourish:

ratio in practice. Inadequate training is indeed
likely to exacerbate the impact of staff shortages.

’They (wardens) are supposed to control
things in the prison have themselves become

Insufficient healthcare in prisons

something of a gang because they collude

Our key informants confirm the lack of professional

with the gangs, they allow things to happen.

caregivers. In one prison for instance one would

They don’t necessarily intervene when things

find ‘one psychologist for 7 000 inmates’. Indeed,

go wrong. They may very well look one way

data from the DCS shows a high vacancy rate

when something happens.’

among professional staff, with 2 203 posts filled
but 1 119 vacant (DCS, 2007).

A health care worker in a South African prison

The lack of health care workers means that

identifies the problem of sexual violence and staff

screening upon admission is not done (properly)

shortages:

and sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV are
brought into the prison, having a devastating effect

‘There is a lot of abuse going on in the prison,

when inmates are subjected to (forced) sexual

which is not necessarily sexual, but it is

activity or even consensual sexual activity. On the

certainly leading to breakdown of health. And

absence of an adequate system of psychological

where it is sexual, it leads to very serious

counseling an informant says: ‘No one should go

consequences for the health of the prisoners.

through that without the proper counseling and

They are very demoralised by that act and

healthcare.’

working with them it is difficult because, as I
said, there isn’t much back-up service.’

The Sexual Offences Bill does not seek
to provide victims of rape with psychosocial
counseling at state expense3. However, the bill

Sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV are brought
into the prison, having a devastating effect when
inmates are subjected to (forced) sexual activity

in its current form does seek to provide for postexposure prophylaxis where the victim reports the
rape within 72 hours.

One of our key informants pointed out that the

Lack of Training

DCS has quite a substantial budget and claimed

Our interviews indicate a substantial need for

that that there is ‘one DCS official for every four

training on rape and HIV transmission, amongst

inmates’. This informant did not see the problem

other issues. One DCS healthcare worker in South

in staff shortages but in inadequate training and

Africa offered what this person called a ‘maverick’

the fact that people ‘simply do not do their job’.

interpretation of the risk of HIV transmission:

Data from the DCS however shows that
as at January 10, 2006, the DCS had 35 143

‘Sexual activity is not the same as rape. Rape

staff positions filled (including management and

is traumatic and against the will of a person

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AGENDA 74 2007

it they will use force on you to achieve the

going on here in relation to the trauma. With

things that they want to do to you to abuse

sodomy there is very little injury that occurs

you like they use you like you are a lady.’

with the sodomy cases that we see in prison.
But there is very little open wound injury in

A key informant who has counseled prison rape

rape within the prison. So I think that might be

survivors revealed how inmates frame their rape

an extra reason why. And the third reason is

experiences:

article

concerned. I think there is something else

probably because the anal passage itself is not
only large in proportion to the ejaculation but

‘I will say things like, “When you’re raped, you

it is also covered with bacteria, which would

feel as if you have been turned into a woman.

make it hard for the virus to get through to the

Is that what you feel?” And then I try and get

internal organs, the blood system.’

them to respond. Or “you will feel as if you
have been turned from a man into a woman?”

This view, held by a DCS health care worker,

Cause this is the way they complain about it

is of great concern, since (unprotected) anal

and at the same time this is the intention of the

intercourse has been identified as carrying the

rapist; to turn them into a passive sex slave.’

highest probability of transmission of all types of
sexually transmitted diseases (World Bank, 1997).

Lack of rehabilitation in prison
An inmate describes the lack of rehabilitation

Gendered nature of rape in prison

structures in prison:

In their description of the circumstances in which
rapes occur, inmates and key informants pointed

‘The court sentenced me with the objective

out the gendered construct of perpetrators and

to be rehabilitated in prison.

victims and revealed how rape in prison reflects

don’t rehabilitate anyone in prison, I had to

and reinforces men’s understanding of sex as an

rehabilitate myself. Where do the wardens

expression of male dominance and men’s sense

come from? Are there structures in place for

of entitlement to women’s bodies or to bodies

him to change in order to change me? It’s

positioned as female.

not there. So at the end of the day we’ve

But they

got rape, HIV, crime… these are some of the
‘It didn’t feel better the second time, it was

things that exist in this country. Cause why?

still sore. They male raped me. I think that

Because nobody gets involved. That’s what

they think I am a woman.

it is like.’

But I’m not a

woman, I’m a man. Because I was sodomised,

sodomise and get rid of my anger.’

Rape in prison reflects and reinforces men’s
understanding of sex as an expression of
male dominance

‘If you come inside prison and you don’t know

A warden speaks about the essential need for

prison, and they will get you and call you at

rehabilitation:

I’m more streetwise now. So I sodomise. I
enjoy sodomising because it is now time to

night, maybe you sleep and they wake you
up and call you and they will talk to you and

‘If you punish and keep on doing that with

the talk that opens is always to abuse you,

an overpopulated prison, send them back

have sex with you, and if you don’t agree with

to society, what is going back to society?

Stop prison rape in South Africa

75

article

Monsters. We are making monsters and the

innocent people… because for him it’s normal;

same people that are here today in prison are

he has been raped in prison. And for him it

tomorrow what we are putting out on the

feels like, he’s retaining his manhood.’

streets.

We need to correct.

We need to
Another inmate talks about the cycle of abuse

restore.’

and how sexual violence in prison carries into the
communities:

Implications for the community
Evidence provided by key informants shows that
rape in prison might very well be the beginning

‘Since I came here to prison, things happen;

of a spiral of sexual violence that continues in the

they infect us and leads you to the point

community upon release; it has been stressed

where, for a man to be abused, it is like your

that this is particularly true of young prisoners

manhood is taken away from you. At the end

(Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Sexual

of the day, you feel justified by raping the next

Violence, 2005).

person, whether it is a male or female. It feels

A psychologist who has developed and
implemented

sex

offender

like retaining your manhood.’

rehabilitation

programmes at correctional facilities in South Africa

Discussion

states that:

Interviews with inmates and a host of reports
suggest that rape is pervasive in South African

‘When men are victimised and traumatised,

prisons. However, the response from the DCS

they carry on victimising others at different

to date has been wholly inadequate. No official

levels and in different ways. If a man gets

statistics on rape within prison are available. No

brutalised in prison, he comes out and his

rape-specific prevention programmes are currently

first target is his family, his wife and children.

offered at prisons, and psycho-social support

Unfortunately, sexual violence is a gift that

and medical treatment is chronically unavailable

keeps on giving and the family is often the first

– reflecting dire shortages of health workers,

target upon release.’

especially critically needed social workers and
psychologists. The response from the state

‘Get a person in prison and he is raped in prison.
That person goes out and rapes innocent
people… because for him it’s normal'

(and, sadly, from most civil society organisations)
suggests that preventing prison rape is not a
priority at all.
While our still new democratic government
is faced with many pressing social problems,

One inmate describes how he rapes to pay back

we argue that prison rape should be addressed

for what has happened to him:

urgently for at least the following reasons:

‘I can say it makes me feel like paying back

Prison rape represents a gross human rights

for what happened to me, it even makes me

violation and a dereliction of the State’s

feel good inside. I want them to feel what I

constitutional duty to protect

felt, at that time when it happened to me.’

Perhaps contrary to common belief, prisoners
retain all rights except those which have to be

76

‘Get a person in prison and he is raped

limited to implement the imposed sentence.

in prison. That person goes out and rapes

South Africa’s Constitution guarantees rights to

AGENDA 74 2007

Rob Morrell, editor of two anthologies on men in

or been accused of crime and are incarcerated.

South Africa and the region, argues that ‘masculinity

In fact, because prisoners are incarcerated by the

and violence have been yoked together in South

state, the state has an especially clear duty to care

African history’ (O’ Donovan and Redpath, 2006).

for prisoners in a way that does not violate their

Discussions of interpersonal violence appropriately

constitutional rights, which include the rights to

centre on men’s violence against women; after

humane conditions of incarceration, dignity, life,

all South Africa has some of the highest levels

and freedom and security of the person.

of domestic and sexual violence anywhere in

article

all citizens, including those who have committed

the world. However, men’s violence against men
The continued existence of prison rape

should also generate significant alarm. In 2003,

constitutes a threat to our human rights

roughly seven times as many South African men

culture

as women died as a result of homicide. Based on

Sacrificing the rights of inmates sets dangerous

the National Injury Mortality Surveillance System, in

precedents for a new democracy such as ours.

2003, 7 359 men died as a result of homicide, while

When we sacrifice victims of prison rape – whether

1 197 women were killed (NIMSS, 2004). While

it be with arguments of expediency, such as

not usually defined as such, we posit that this, too,

those made about costs and limited resources

constitutes a form of gender-based violence; much

or the pressing priorities of other groups – we

of the violence carried out by men against other

run the risk of seeing our social contract with

men serves as a way to assert male dominance.

other groups gradually eroded and undermined,

This is especially true in prisons.

first marginalised groups, such as migrants and
refugees (who are already often blamed for crime
and unemployment) and then quite possibly other
groups such as people living with HIV and AIDS

South African prisons manufacture violent
forms of masculinities

(witness calls for mandatory HIV testing), sex
workers or perhaps survivors of rape in general.

Kopano Ratele argues that a first step in
dealing with our violent past and present entails

Prison rape sheds light on how masculinities are

acknowledging ‘the longstanding violence of our

constructed and makes clear the damage done

society, our own vile history’ (Ratele, 2003).

to men and women by hegemonic masculinity

Admitting the impact that it had and continues

The publication in 1995 of Connell’s Masculinities

to have, he says, allows us to admit ‘that we

contributed to an understanding that men are not

are talking about men who are not mad, but are

monolithic. Instead, Connell argued that men’s

rather the embodiment of a mad society’. He

experiences, understandings and embodiments

poses a question first asked by Eric Miyeni that

of what it means to be a man are shaped by and

organisations working with men need to attend

reflect their life experiences (Connell, 1995). The

to urgently. Describing his friends traumatised by

quotes in this article make it clear that prisons

apartheid, Ratele quotes Miyeni, ‘I hear people say

foster particular forms of masculinities. In his

these men belong to the lost generation. And so I

book The Number Jonny Steinberg chronicles the

ask, “Where is the search party?”’

ways in which South African prisons manufacture

Surely the ‘search party’ Miyeni calls for would

especially violent, predatory forms of masculinities

find many men of the ‘lost generation’ in prison.

that reflect and reinforce a history of violent

His question requires that we question our shift

masculinities (Steinberg, 2005).

towards more punitive ‘lock ‘em up and throw

Stop prison rape in South Africa

77

article

away the key’ responses to crime and that we

Gender analysis and beyond

instead explore ways to address the social causes

A gender analysis provides useful insights into

of crime and provide inmates with effective

how masculinities are constructed and enacted

rehabilitative options.

both within and outside of prison. A gender
analysis helps us understand that rape in prison

Prison rape compromises public health and

reflects, reinforces and valorises predatory forms

increases levels of violence – especially violence

of masculinity. However, gender is only one

against women

determinant of prison rape.

Challenging prison rape, insisting on humane prison

A range of broader structural forces such as

conditions and holding the state to its commitment

race, class and economics determine who ends up

to provide rehabilitation programmes and effective

in prison, what conditions they face there and what

alternatives to incarceration is also good public

recourse to justice they have. It seems futile, for

health and crime prevention. After all, inmates leave

instance, to offer inmates workshops on gender

prisons and return to their communities. When

and alternatives to violence without simultaneously

inmates contract HIV or TB, develop AIDS-related

advocating for immediate solutions to the chronic

opportunistic infections and receive inadequate

overcrowding that contributes to rape in prison. In

medical treatment they are more likely to contribute

other words, gender theory is useful but should

to a range of health problems.

be part of a broader framework when developing
effective responses to prison rape.

Inmates who come into prison for crimes that are not
in any way related to sexual violence are desensitised
in prison as a result of sexual assault

Recommendations
Address overcrowding
Overcrowding is not only a key correlate of rape
in prisons, but also impedes the upholding of

Simultaneously, when inmates experience the

rights and maintenance of standards in prisons. A

trauma of rape and suffer ongoing humiliation and

comprehensive overhaul of sentencing in general

degradation, or are forced to join gangs for safety

is required, not least because there is evidence

and survival, they are more likely to contribute to

to suggest current sentencing practices may be

a range of health problems and are more likely

skewed against young Coloured and black men.

to engage in criminal activities – including, we

Such a sentencing overhaul should provide for

contend, violence against women and children.

real alternatives to imprisonment for less serious

What’s more, inmates who come into prison

offences, as well as a sensible framework of

for crimes that are not in any way related to

imprisonment for serious offences, taking into

sexual violence are desensitised in prison as

account the capacity of prisons.

a result of sexual assault and may themselves

The Correctional Services Amendment Bill

become perpetrators of the violent and aggressive

seeks to give the Minister wide discretion to grant

crime of rape. Given the ways in which prison

parole and thus shorten the sentences handed

rape exacerbates a more generalised culture

down by courts, as a solution for overcrowding.

of male entitlement to women’s bodies, and

This is likely to undermine both the rule of law

given the expertise of anti-rape organisations, it

and public trust in the criminal justice system.

is important that organisations focused on rape

Sentencing reform in the courts should be

– including women’s rights organisations – engage

preferred over a wide discretion to grant parole in

in advocacy to prevent prison rape.

the hands of Correctional Services. Such reform

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Notes

alternative programmes provided or funded by

1

the Department of Social Development, which
may form part of sentences for non-custodial
sentences of correctional supervision.
2

Implement the Jali Commission
recommendations
The

Department

of

Correctional

Services

should seek to implement the Jali Commission
Recommendations.

This process should be

accompanied by an operational plan and indicators
for each recommendation so that proper monitoring
and evaluation can take place. An independent,

3

The Commission of Inquiry to investigate and report on
corruption, maladministration, violence, and intimidation
in the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) became
known as the ‘Jali Commission’ after Mr. Justice T.S.B.
Jali, serving as the Chairperson of the Commission.
Although the law does not yet consider forced anal
penetration of men to be “rape”, the Sexual Offences Bill,
which has been approved by the National Assembly and
is awaiting approval by the National Council of Provinces,
seeks to change the legal definition of rape so that any
form of non-consensual penetration of the vagina, anus
or mouth constitutes “rape” rather than sexual assault. In
this article we use the term “rape” as it is defined in the
Sexual Offences Bill.
For an outline of the Sexual Offences Bill: M. Bruins,
Taking stock of the Sexual Offences Bill.

external body should conduct assessments of the
situation initially to ensure implementation. Through
monitoring, the impact of various interventions
can be measured. The performance of the system
in integrating these recommendations should be
enforceable at every level, including the Minister of
Correctional Services and the Department should
be held responsible if the recommendations are
not implemented with urgency.
Strengthen civilian oversight
The Judicial Inspectorate should be strengthened
instead of weakened as is currently proposed
by the Correctional Services Amendment Bill.
In addition the Judicial Inspectorate should
collaborate with departments beyond the DCS to
ensure that prison rape is addressed, including the
Department of Health, the South African Police
and the National Prosecuting Authority.
Civil society co-operation
Women’s rights organisations, HIV/AIDS advocacy
organisations, organisations working with men
to promote gender equality and organisations
working to promote prisoners’ rights should
develop working coalitions and networks to
demand services for rape victims, including prison
rape. There is a need for greater CSO involvement
in holding the DCS accountable.

References
‘Commission of inquiry into alleged incidents of corruption,
maladministration, violence or intimidation into the
department of correctional services appointed by order
of the president of the Republic of South Africa in terms
of proclamation no. 135 of 2001, as amended’ (2005)
Final Report.
Connell RW (1995) Masculinities, Cambridge: Polity Press.
The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act 108 of
1996
The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters)
Amendment Bill B50-2003
DCS website: http://www.dcs.gov.za/WebStatistics/, site
accessed 5 August 2007
Gear S, Isserow M, & Nevill C (2006) Situational Analysis of
Boksburg Youth Centre, Sexual Violence in Prison Pilot
Project 2006 Available from the Centre for the Study of
Violence and Reconciliation.
Judicial Inspectorate of Prisons 2006:18, quoted in Sloth-Nielsen.
National Injury Mortality Surveillance System (2004)
News 24.com (2005) Jail Rape: The sordid facts 1/3/2005.
http://www.news24.com/News24/South_Africa/Politics/0,,27-12_1669654,00.html, site accessed 4 August 2007.
O’ Donovan M. and Redpath J Submission to the Justice
Portfolio Committee on Sentencing Law
Ratele K (2003) ‘Recovering the ordinary’, in M Pieterse &
F Meintjies (eds) Voices of the transition: The Politics,
Poetics and Practices of Social Change in South Africa,
Johannesburg: Heinemann.
Sloth-Nielsen J (2007) ‘The State of South Africa’s Prisons’
in S Buhlungu, J Daniel, R Southall and J Lutchman (eds)
State of the Nation, Cape Town: HSRC Press.
Steinberg, J (2005) The Number, Jonathan Ball: Cape Town.
World Bank (1997) ‘Confronting AIDS’, Oxford University
Press.

Stop prison rape in South Africa

79

article

should include expansion in the availability of

article

ELENA GHANOTAKIS has a Bachelors degree in government/international
relations from Dartmouth College in the Us and a MSc in public health in
developing countries from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
She works for the Clinton Foundation HIV/AIDS Initiative. Her main focus
areas are gender-based violence and how international trade laws affect access
to medicines. She is working on a documentary film about rape in South Africa.
Email: eghanotakis@gmail.com
MARIANNE BRUINS did her MSc (Drs.) in Health Sciences,at the University of
Maastricht, The Netherlands. She worked for the Child Health Unit of the University
of Cape Town, then returned to the Netherlands to do a Law degree while
working for the Netherlands Study of Anxiety and Depression and the Institute of
Immigration Law. At present, she is doing her internship at the Gender, Health and
Justice Research Unit at UCT. Email: mariannerozemarijn@gmail.com
JEAN REDPATH works as an independent research consultant, predominantly in
the criminal justice field. She was a researcher at the Institute for Human Rights
and Criminal Justice Studies at Technikon SA, and a parliamentary analyst for the
South African Institute of Race Relations. She has a BSc. in Mathematics and
Chemistry, and an LLB, from the University of Cape Town, and has been admitted
as an attorney in the Cape High Court.

DEAN PEACOCK is co-founder and co-director of the Sonke Gender Justice
Project. He founded and directed the Men Overcoming Violence (MOVE) Youth
Program, co-authored The United States Agenda for the Nation on Violence Against
Women, developed and co-ordinated the Building Partnerships Initiative to End
Men’s Violence for the Family Violence Prevention Fund, and from 2001-2005
he co-ordinated the implementation of the South African Men as Partners (MAP)
Network. Dean has worked as a consultant to many national and international
organisations. Email: dean@genderjustice.org.za
RAOUL SWART coordinates Sonke Gender Justice’s prisons project. Part of this
work was supported by the UCLA Program in Global Health through support from
The Ford Foundation and The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund. The views
expressed herein are those of the authors and not those of the funders or any
employees of the funders.

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