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WEAPONISED SEXUAL VIOLENCE

A quarter of South Africans surveyed think rape can sometimes be justified in war

A quarter of South Africans surveyed think rape can sometimes be justified in war
A resident walks next to a house destroyed in the 7 October Hamas raid in Be’eri, Israel. Families and supporters of hostages kidnapped by Hamas joined a tour of Kibbutz Be’eri on 20 December 2023, held for journalists to mark 75 days since the attack. (Photo by Maja Hitij / Getty Images)

The women behind a South African survey worry that the sexual violence by Hamas against Israelis on 7 October 2023 is being ignored.

One in four South Africans believe that rape can sometimes be justified in wartime, according to a new national opinion survey.

The Women’s Action Campaign SA (Wacsa) commissioned the survey of 808 South Africans between 14 and 20 February to explore reasons for what it regarded as “muted responses” in this country to the sexual atrocities committed by Hamas militants in Israel on 7 October 2023.

See the survey here:


The group of women said the campaign emerging from the survey had also been motivated by broader concerns about sexual violence in armed conflicts across the globe and called for consistency from South Africa when it comes to responding to incidents of such violence.

war rape

Placards showing photos of Israeli hostages held by Hamas hang in a destroyed house in Be’eri, Israel on 20 December 2023 before a press conference to mark 75 days since the attack. (Photo by Maja Hitij / Getty Images)

It called on the government to put the same pressure on Hamas as it had done on Israel when it came to acts of sexual violence.

The group of 20 women behind the survey felt that a “muted response” was inappropriate “in a country itself being plagued by high levels of gender-based violence (GBV).”

“Importantly, Wacsa believes that compassion is not a binary choice,” they said in a statement.

“The Israel-Hamas war is complex, but it’s not hard to recognise and acknowledge both the devastating loss of life in Gaza and the horror and tragedy of Hamas’ brutal attack and sexual violence in Israel.”

Among the key findings of the survey were that 40% believed reports of Hamas’ rapes and killings in Israel on 7 October were Israeli or Western propaganda.

And indeed, the Israeli claims have been controversial, with many pro-Palestinian groups refuting them.

UN body confirms reports

But coincidentally this week, Pramila Patten, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, confirmed the reports.

After leading a fact-finding mission to Israel between 29 January and 14 February 2024, she announced: “Based on the information gathered by the mission team from multiple and independent sources, there are reasonable grounds to believe that conflict-related sexual violence occurred during the 7 October attacks in multiple locations across Gaza periphery, including rape and gang rape, in at least three locations.”

The locations were the Nova music festival and surrounds, Road 232 and surrounds and Kibbutz Re’im.

Patten’s report added that “the mission team found clear and convincing information that some hostages taken to Gaza have been subjected to various forms of conflict-related sexual violence and has reasonable grounds to believe that such violence may be ongoing.”

Patten’s mission also visited Ramallah, the de facto administrative capital of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, to meet several government ministers, civil society and four recently released detainees.

The mission said it heard their views and concerns about conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) allegedly committed by Israeli security forces and settlers.

“This information will complement information already verified by other UN entities on allegations of CRSV in Gaza and the occupied West Bank for potential inclusion in the annual Report of the Secretary-General on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence,” the UN report said.

‘False and baseless accusations’ — Hamas

Hamas rejected and condemned Patten’s report.

It said in a statement posted on the social media platform X that Patten’s report did not document any testimony of witnesses to these “false and baseless accusations”.

Instead, it said, she had “relied in her report on Israeli institutions, soldiers and witnesses selected by the occupation authorities, to push towards trying to prove this false charge, which was refuted by all investigations and international reports.”

Hamas said Patten’s report followed Israeli attempts to prove the same “false charge” which it said was intended to cover up the United Nations rapporteurs’ report “about the existence of conclusive evidence of horrific human rights violations suffered by Palestinian women and girls by the ‘Israeli’ occupation forces.”

Hamas said, “Ms Patten’s claims are clearly contradicted by the testimonies of Israeli women about the good treatment by the fighters towards them, as well as the testimonies of the released Israeli female prisoners, and what they confirmed of the good treatment they received during their captivity in Gaza.”

Hamas appeared to be referring to the report on 19 February 2024 by several UN experts on what they called “credible allegations of egregious human rights violations to which Palestinian women and girls continue to be subjected in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

“We are particularly distressed by reports that Palestinian women and girls in detention have also been subjected to multiple forms of sexual assault, such as being stripped naked and searched by male Israeli army officers. At least two female Palestinian detainees were reportedly raped while others were reportedly threatened with rape and sexual violence,” the experts said.

The authors of the report are Reem Alsalem, Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences; Francesca Albanese, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967; Dorothy Estrada Tanck (chairperson), Claudia Flores, Ivana Krstić, Haina Lu and Laura Nyirinkindi, and other members of the working group on discrimination against women and girls.

Key findings of SA survey

Other key findings of the Wacsa survey of 808 South Africans were that:

  • One in two South Africans knows someone who has been raped and/or experienced GBV.
  • 97% agree that rape and GBV are profound problems.
  • 90% believe that all rape victims should be supported, regardless of race, culture, religion or gender.
  • 73% believe that rape is never justifiable; 25% say that it can be justified in wartime.
  • 56% had not heard of Hamas and 62% did not know about Hamas’ attack on Israel.
  • When presented with details, 79% believe it was an unjustified act of war and terror.
  • 70% support prosecuting Hamas’ actions as war crimes and 54% believe that the South African government should apply pressure to this end.

Wacsa spokesperson Angie Richardson said that the survey, which was first published in the South African Jewish Report, had not asked people for their views on the counter-allegations of sexual violence by Israelis against Palestinians because these had not been reported on at the time the survey was commissioned.

“I will categorically state that none of us would or do ignore that and I think it would be completely naive of us to think the IDF (Israeli Defence Force) has not committed sexual violence. It happens in war on both sides.

“And I also need to make this point, that none of us are ignoring the atrocities and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. You cannot ignore that.”

She said, “South Africa’s ongoing silence and denial of Hamas’ sexual atrocities were deeply disturbing.”

Wacsa’s website notes that “despite overwhelming video evidence” – including many videos made and posted by perpetrators themselves – “these crimes were met with disbelief, distortion of the facts and outright denial by many in the international community.”

“International human rights organisations took two months to respond and there was an eerie silence from feminist and women’s rights organisations in South Africa,” it added.

‘Impossibly high burden of proof’

“The burden of proof for rape has been raised impossibly high for Israeli women,” the Wacsa statement continued.

“A detailed investigation by the Association of Rape Crisis Centres in Israel found that Hamas militants intentionally used sadistic sexual practices to spread humiliation and terror.

“Some South African political parties and commentators have denied outright the 7 October atrocities,” the Wacsa statement continued.

“Others claimed that Israelis brought the atrocities on themselves. The Wacsa survey highlights the dangers inherent in this rhetoric.

“Wacsa calls on political parties, our government, civil society and human/women’s rights organisations and activists to publicly condemn rape and sexual violence wherever they occur.

Pandor comment praised

“We are encouraged by the recent comment from Minister of International Affairs Naledi Pandor, who told parliamentarians that Hamas must be investigated for war crimes.

“However, we hope the South African government will pursue this with the same enthusiasm as in its ICJ case against Israel,” Richardson said, referring to the charges of genocide in Gaza that South Africa brought against Israel at the International Court of Justice on 29 December 2023.

“South Africans’ understanding of 7 October is limited, but a clear majority (79%) called it an unjustified act of terror when presented with a generic paragraph on the attack.

“Despite this, 40% believed that reports of Hamas atrocities are Israeli or Western propaganda, while 25% believed that the victims “brought it on themselves” by being complicit in Israel’s treatment of Palestinians,” the statement said.

Richardson stressed that rape and sexual violence could never be justified or seen as deserved.

‘Failure to condemn condones sexual violence’

“Failing to condemn Hamas’ horrific atrocities and blaming victims simply condones the use of rape and sexual violence as weapons of war.

“The survey reveals deeply unsettling attitudes and underscores the critical need for education, dialogue and accountability measures to protect all people from these horrific acts, regardless of gender, race, religion or politics.

“Wacsa believes that we should all speak out whenever people are raped, sexually assaulted and abused, wherever they are – in Ukraine, Sudan, Syria, the DRC, Mozambique or Israel.

“We’re alarmed that some South Africans view rape and sexual violence as acceptable in conflict, but the survey demonstrates that, overall, they strongly condemn all violence against innocents,” said Richardson.

“Seventy percent of South Africans would support prosecuting Hamas militants for war crimes at the International Criminal Court,” the statement says.

“More than half believe that the government should apply maximum pressure to achieve this.

“Wacsa, therefore, calls on the South African government to go further than simply stating its condemnation of acts of violence of October 7. It must apply maximum pressure through international courts, the United Nations and through its close ties to Hamas leadership to ensure accountability and justice for victims and survivors and the release of all hostages still in Gaza. The majority of South Africans would support this.”

Dirco response

Clayson Monyela, spokesperson for the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, said: “We want to categorically reject the insinuation that we have a close relationship with Hamas. It’s simply not true. We don’t.”

“Our statements are on record, as they (Wacsa) have themselves acknowledged, that we have spoken out. And so we’ll continue to repeat that and we’ll continue to make the same call.”

When pressed, though, on Wacsa’s call for the government to take Hamas to international courts, Monyela said the ICJ only dealt with states.

What about taking Hamas to other courts, like the International Criminal Court?

“But why should it be South Africa doing that? Because we’ve spoken out, as others have spoken out, why this need for us to go to courts?”

The Wacsa poll

Wacsa commissioned the survey and Victory Research conducted it from 14-20 February 2024.  It said the sample of 808 respondents “fully represents South Africa’s adult population.

“The survey was conducted telephonically using a single-frame, random-digit dialling sampling method. The margin of error was 3.5% at a confidence level of 95%.”

Richardson said the respondents were not chosen according to their religion, although they were asked their religion.

Of the 808 total, 580 said they were Christian, 132 African traditional, 21 Muslim, 18 Hindu and two Jewish. The rest were agnostics or atheists or “other” beliefs, or wouldn’t say. Broken down by gender, 420 were male and 388 female.

Wacsa describes itself as “an independent and a non-political group of concerned South African women of all ages, ethnicities, races, religions and backgrounds. All members work in their personal capacity as volunteers and have been touched by the ongoing cycle of GBV inflicted on women”.

The statement added that “the divisiveness of the Israel-Hamas war poses a real and present threat to the safety of its members and their families. Wacsa, therefore, chooses not to disclose members’ names.”

Richardson told Daily Maverick in an interview that there were 20 women in Wacsa, and that it was a campaign rather than an organisation.

Richardson said the Wacsa campaign had been inspired both by their concern that the Hamas sexual violence was being ignored as well as by broader concerns about sexual violence in conflict.

“We are women who are concerned about GBV and rape generally as many of us work in this space, which is why we were shocked by the lack of response to 7 October. We commissioned the survey to understand better why there was such a muted response.

Sexual violence as a weapon

“Our campaign is aimed at highlighting the use of sexual violence as a weapon,” she said, noting that the UN was investigating several armed conflicts, notably in Ukraine, where she said the world body had documented that thousands of Ukrainian women had been raped by Russian soldiers. There were also reports on Haiti, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia and northern Mozambique.

“Our campaign wants to challenge and educate South Africans about beliefs that condone or believe violence against women can be justified. We also want to create awareness in SA about  the use of conflict-related sexual violence as a weapon.”

She said that despite its reports on violence elsewhere, the UN had initially placed a heavy burden on Israel to prove its allegations of sexual violence against Hamas. She thought part of the reason was there had been so much distortion and propaganda about the issue on social media.

Richardson said she had worked a lot with organisations addressing GBV, yet none had spoken out on the Hamas attack as this was such an emotive and divisive issue.

Richardson said the group would like to see an acknowledgement from the SA government that it would put the same pressure on Hamas as it had on Israel.

She added that statements like those made by the ANC immediately after the Hamas attacks, blaming them on Israel, “speak to that small minority of 25% of people who think rape is okay, that it can be justified.

She said the Wacsa group included Jewish, Christian and Muslim women. About half were activists against GBV who felt it was too risky for them to speak out publicly for fear of being seen as pursuing a pro-Israel or pro-Jewish agenda.

She said that some were from communities “where it could be quite dangerous for them to be aligned to us”. DM

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Nick Miller says:

    The 25% who consider rape a legitimate form of military action must be complete animals!

    • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

      For a person to kill and rape or do both means the moral compass of such a person has been completely destroyed.
      The problem with the army occupation is for the personnel to fight and kill, the physical training will ensure they are fit to do the task, but for that to be successful certain emotions are provoked to a point where killing becomes a 9 to 5 job.
      That objective can only be reached by killing the personal conscience of a normal person.
      The colour of a uniform renders a person an enemy that deserves to be a subject of infliction of pain and death, rape becomes a sympathetic option of unleashing the programmed anger,frustration and display of power.
      The victims are not the only victims but the perpetrator even after survival in the war dies emotionally.
      But for people who consider rape a military action outside of war or for a well motivated army that is confident and professionally led then we already have 25% of people that must be arrested for contemplating or conspiring to rape before they actually carry out the fantasy.

  • MaverickMe says:

    To even entertain the thought that rape is ok in any sense, format or situation is sickening. Rape, anywhere in the world, is a living death.

    To the 25% who said that rape could sometimes be justified in wartime I would love to hear your side of the story should this happen to a loved one.

    • Justin Dent says:

      Rape is quietly ignored in Islam. Prevalent in many Islamic countries

      • virginia crawford says:

        Could you provide details? Rape happens everywhere but there is no evidence that it is more rife in Islamic countries. Although the term is problematic- how much do Morocco or Pakistan and Indonesia have in common? A woman is murdered every week in the UK – I would hazard a guess and say this is much higher than Egypt which has twice the population.

      • drew barrimore says:

        Why is this a revelation when the majority in this country think the ANC despite it’s destruction of the country is worth voting for?

  • Bennie Morani says:

    Pretty horrific. It suggests that almost half of South African men think rape is an acceptable weapon of warfare.

  • Citizen X says:

    Outright treacherous behaviour, Hamas or IDFs! All parties should be held to account they do not represent the women on either side of this war.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Rape is a disgraceful CRIME ,no matter the circumstances

  • Justin Dent says:

    Absolutely appalling! Oct7 was the largest terrorist attack in modern history (worse than Sep11). 40% believe it didn’t even happen. Has the world gone mad??

    • virginia crawford says:

      Over 3000 people died in 9/11 and many since due to exposure to chemicals – how is it worse? All terrorism is an atrocity.

  • virginia crawford says:

    This survey sounds very dodgy and unclear: answers depend on the question. I find it extremely hard to believe that 25% of women justify rape, or that 50% of men justify it. It seems that the agenda here is all about garnering support for Israel while ignoring the fact the majority of people on the receiving end of violence, sexual and otherwise, are Palestinians.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    Not surprising in a sick and morally/ intellectually challenged country such as ours with amongst the highest, if not the highest of scourges. Rape, violence against women and children, murder, alcoholism, lawlessness, corruption, inequality etc. It is no wonder that SA, with a huge amount of assistance, connivance and aloofness from our despicable and immoral anc misgovernment, has sunk to the bottom when there was so much hope and goodwill in 1994. They could have made a huge difference, but instead raped and stole this country blind. And the masses still vote for them!

  • Ivan Sadler says:

    While rape should never be condoned or ignored, I think this is biased survey to justify what the IDF is doing in Gaza.

    I couldn’t find a website or any social media presence for WACSA. The closest I got was a facebook page for an SA Israel-supporting women’s organisation, but that had a different name. Similarly, I could find no trace of Angie Richardson. This leads me to believe this whole piece (the survey at least) is propaganda. If WACSA can get it together to hire a company to put together a survey like this, I’d think they’d have a web presence of some kind.

    Google them – all that comes up is this story, reproduced on various sites. Disappointed in DM for not doing due dilligence on this story.

    • Andrew Wallace says:

      I was about to do just that, but you’ve saved me the time.

      As for rape, war induced or not, anyone who feels it can be justified in any way, needs some serious help. Wonder if the survey took their contact details; they’re either victims or perpetrators, potential or actual.

  • PJ T says:

    It is alarming that so many people believe that Israel shelled a hospital and killed 500 people when there is hard evidence that it was a misfired Hamas rocket that landed in a parking lot and killed 50, Yet, again, when there is hard evidence they do not want to believe the rapes and beheadings committed by Hamas.

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