UPDATE: Alleged Rape Victim Charged With Rape

Last week I wrote about a case in which a South African schoolgirl reported that she had been drugged and gang-raped, and that the attack had been filmed by other students and mocked by her teachers. The story has now taken a painful turn. After maintaining she’d been raped during a joint appearance with her alleged rapists in the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court, during a second appearance she said that the sex had been consensual.

The National Prosecuting Authority then made the controversial decision to charge all three teenagers with statutory rape. Under South Africa’s Sexual Offences Act, anyone having consensual intercourse with a child under 16 is prosecutable, even if they themselves are underage. Not unnaturally, this decision has stirred shock and anger across the country.

I’ll come back to the absurdity and cruelty of the mutual statutory rape charges soon, but first I want to briefly consider the girl’s retraction of her accusation.

It’s possible the girl’s initial report was a lie. Rape is occasionally falsely reported — the statistics on how frequently this happens in the U.S. are hotly disputed, and I couldn’t find any at all for South Africa. The report could have been false in this case. If so, it illustrates the importance of keeping the names of accused rapists, especially minors, out of the media and pursuing investigations as quickly and honestly as possible.

She could also have been telling the truth about the rape, but lying about some other details. According to unnamed sources in one paper (so grain of salt), her bloodwork showed no traces of date-rape drugs. Given some initial reports that she’d been drinking, perhaps she was under the influence of alcohol instead of drugs. If something like that is the case, one part of her story being untrue doesn’t necessarily mean she wasn’t raped, but it could have been used to discredit her and pressure her into saying she’d had consensual sex.

It’s also possible she was bullied and shamed into withdrawing her accusations. Remember the teachers laughing and saying she deserved it? The students filming it on their cell phones and passing around the videos? The fact that she was facing a judicial system where the vast majority of accused rapists walk? That a quarter of the men surveyed in the country freely admit to raping someone? That in South Africa gang rape is reportedly a common form of male bonding? That the police only took the boys into custody after a country-wide outcry, though she immediately identified them? That she was brought in to face the magistrate at the same time as her alleged rapists, and heard them both say that she was a willing participant?

This is a country where the current President was elected only a few years after being acquitted of rape by a trial in which his accuser’s reputation was savaged. In fact, his accuser was attacked and abused so much that she went into hiding for three months before the trial, and in 2007 she and her mother were granted asylum in the Netherlands because she feared for her life. Obviously, a case involving a prominent politician is an extreme example because he has a built-in supporter base, but it points to the kind of treatment women can be subjected to if they accuse someone of rape.

All this doesn’t mean she was definitely telling the truth in her initial reports, but it does mean that even if she was telling the truth she had ample reason to retract her accusations. If the best you can hope for from standing by a rape accusation is continuing shame, blame, and scorn, there’s very little incentive to stand by it.

Prosecuting These Teenagers For Sex is A Terrible, Terrible Idea
And then there’s the fact the National Prosecuting Authority decided to charge all three of them — alleged rapists and alleged rape victim — with statutory rape.

A source told South African paper Times Live that the decision was made to make “an example” of the three students and to show the public the Authority was invested in cracking down on (consensual!) underage sex. I understand that many people don’t want their underage children having sex, but to try to solve the problem by making canoodling teenagers criminals is laughably ineffective, and framing the offense as mutual “statutory rape” is logically incoherent.

The NPA is positioning itself as a moral champion, standing up against teenagers having sex in schools. What this looks like, though, is brutalizing children. If the girl wasn’t raped, the boys who just coped with the terror of being falsely accused of rape are now facing charges for having consensual sex. I can’t figure out exactly what the penalties are for statutory rape — they’re surely lighter than for non-statutory rape, but there are penalties, including being registered as a sex offender in a database available to employers.

The NPA’s decision to prosecute consensual underage sex is telling the boys that the difference between raping someone and having consensual sex is…not much, since they’re charged with sexual assault anyway. Part of the senselessness of prosecuting mutual “statutory rape” is that it takes the presence or absence of consent out of the definition of what it means to rape. This is especially serious in a country where it’s reported that 16% of men who say though know a woman who has been raped say she “enjoyed” it and “asked for it.”

The damage doesn’t even come close to stopping with the boys. As a spokesperson for the Child’s Right Project told BBC News, “[T]he prosecutors are sending a horrific and harmful message to other rape survivors.” The message is clear: don’t report your rape, because you may well end up not only a target of your schoolmates and teachers, you could be arrested. It sounds eerily like women’s lives under fundamentalist Islamic law, where they can be prosecuted for adultery if they report rape. Whether the girl was originally telling the truth about the rape or not, the message will be heard by every girl and woman considering reporting her teenage rapist.

And if she was actually raped, exactly the way she said it happened or not, prosecuting her is both unjust and horrifyingly cruel. This is a child who may have just been through hell, and she may now have to go on trial for having “consensual underage sex” with her attackers. I can’t find the words to articulate how terrifying, humiliating, and heart-stoppingly devastating an ordeal that would be for a rape survivor who is already so traumatized she withdrew her accusations. Again, we don’t know if she was truly raped or not, but to dismiss the fact that it’s possible — to believe one statement she made on her second trip to court to face her alleged rapists over all the other statements she’s made — is ridiculous.

The outcome of these statutory rape cases is still in doubt — they may be withdrawn, they may be diverted into a rehabilitation program for the children, or they may be heard in open court. A final order should be made on December 1st. I’m trying to hold onto hope that the NPA will withdraw the charges, but the fact they filed them in the first place leads me to believe they’ll forge ahead.

After all, the real moral problem in South African schools is teenagers consensually having sex, right?

Photo of a gavel taken by Brian Turner (steakpinball) and found on his flickr. It's reused with thanks under Creative Commons License.


Marjaana Y.
M Y8 years ago

i have no words...

and only those who know me realize how rare that is.

Dean P.
Dean P8 years ago

Nobody deserves to be mistreated for the sexual gratification of deranged individuals, wheather they are in a position of power or not..Treat others the way you want to be treated!

jane richmond
jane richmond8 years ago


Klaus P.
Klaus Peters8 years ago

The whole story of course plays into the hands of the rapists and that is why they get away with it all the time.

Jennifer Martin
Jennifer M8 years ago


Lika S.
Lika P8 years ago

Outrageous. I really can't believe this. That's the most horrid thing I've heard.

Jane L.
Jane L8 years ago

I feel that a lot of this article is BS since it is going based on a lot of "what if" scenerios given the fact that the truth has yet to be determined.

Gina H.
Gina H8 years ago

Marie you are absolutely right when you say misogyny is the problem. Solution? Just remove all of the female population and leave the males to themselves. After the idiots kill themselves off with their need for power & control, let the females move back and start over with males who respect women as human beings. You can't change anything when the group responsible for atrocities IS the government as well as the male population. Anyone know of any women mercenaries looking for some hunting action? Maybe when the boyz get their shit back in their face, they'll reconsider. Personally, I think execution of rapists is the quickest solution just like executing child molesters. Men who rape find it the biggest sexual high to rape so why stop?

Jose Ramon Fisher Rodrigu

A quarter of the men in that country freely admit to raping someone? Who let them host the World Cup????

Doug D.
Douglas D8 years ago

This is ridiculous. Post pubescent children are going to experiment sexually, not matter what the law says. If it's not concensual, charge the boys with rape. If it's concensual, there should be no charges, as none of those involved have fully developed cognition and as humans, are wired to experiment sexually at that age.