Advancing Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights
 
International Family Planning Perspectives
Volume 33, Number 1, March 2007
DIGEST

In South Africa, Young Men with Sexual Risk Factors Are More Likely to Commit Rape

In rural South Africa, the odds of having raped a nonpartner or a partner are elevated among men who have physically abused a girlfriend, engaged in transactional sex or had six or more lifetime consensual partners.1 According to data collected during a study of an HIV intervention program, the odds that a young man would rape a partner or a nonpartner rose with the number of adverse events he experienced during childhood. Moreover, the risk of nonpartner rape increased with socioeconomic status and was elevated among those who had ever used drugs or belonged to a gang.

In 2002–2003, 1,370 men aged 15–26 were recruited from village schools in Eastern Cape Province for an HIV prevention program. Participants agreed to complete questionnaires administered by same-sex interviewers, be tested for HIV periodically over two years and participate in a behavioral intervention. Data for this analysis came from the baseline questionnaire, which collected information on participants' demographic characteristics, childhood experiences, social behavior and sexual history. Men were asked about their perpetration of sexual violence against nonpartners and partners. The definition of rape included coercing a woman to have sex through threats as well as through physical force, and encompassed vaginal, anal and oral sex. Men were categorized as having raped a nonpartner if they reported having ever forced a woman who was not their girlfriend to have sex. This category also included men who had engaged in gang rape or "streamlining," a practice in which several men rape a friend's girlfriend, often as punishment or a form of male bonding. The researchers conducted multivariate logistic regressions to identify significant predictors of each type of rape.

Overall, 13% of the men reported having raped a nonpartner only, 5% had raped an intimate partner only and 4% had raped both an intimate partner and a nonpartner. Men's mean age at first rape was 17. On average, those who reported nonpartner rape scored higher than other participants on a scale measuring socioeconomic status, and a higher proportion had mothers with some secondary schooling (80% vs. 64%). Men who had raped a nonpartner tended to score higher than their peers on a scale measuring adverse childhood experiences, and lower on a scale assessing their ability to resist peer pressure to have sex. Heavy drinking, ever having used drugs and ever having been in a gang were more common among men who had raped a nonpartner (15–52%) than among those who had not (5–36%). The same was true of physical violence toward an intimate partner, transactional sex and having had six or more lifetime consensual partners (15–48% vs. 5–23%). Men who had raped a nonpartner tended to score lower than other participants on a scale that evaluated communication skills in their current relationship. Similar patterns emerged when men who reported having raped an intimate partner were compared with those who did not.

In one logistic regression model—which included only demographic and social variables—men's odds of reporting nonpartner rape rose with socioeconomic status and number of adverse childhood experiences, and were associated with mother's receipt of secondary schooling, heavy drinking, ever having used drugs and ever having been in a gang (odds ratios, 1.2–2.3). Resistance to peer pressure to have sex was negatively associated with men's odds of having raped a nonpartner (0.7). When sexual risk factors were added to the model, all of these relationships retained statistical significance, except for the link between nonpartner rape and heavy drinking. Moreover, men who had ever engaged in transactional sex or been physically violent toward an intimate partner were significantly more likely than other participants to have raped a nonpartner (1.6 and 1.9, respectively). The odds of nonpartner rape were significantly higher among men who reported multiple lifetime consensual partners than among those who did not (5.0–17.1).

In another model that excluded sexual risk factors, men's odds of having raped an intimate partner increased with the number of adverse childhood events they had experienced (odds ratio, 1.4), and were associated with mother's attendance of high school and respondent's abuse of alcohol (1.8 and 2.0, respectively). When sexual risk factors were included in the model, mother's education and alcohol abuse were no longer significant; the strongest predictors of intimate partner rape were number of adverse childhood experiences, transactional sex, physical violence toward a partner and multiple lifetime consensual partners (1.3–4.3). Men who had lived with neither parent for most of their childhood had significantly decreased odds of having raped an intimate partner (0.6).

The authors note that the way in which participants were recruited limits the generalizability of their findings. Because certain factors were linked to both types of rape, the authors suggest that "some underlying dynamics…are largely the same." Yet, they maintain, the relationship between socioeconomic status and nonpartner rape may indicate that "having an exaggerated sense of sexual entitlement and enacting fantasies of power were particularly important in these cases." According to the authors, "prevention of rape needs to start in childhood and in homes," and "male peer associations…may also be appropriate points of entry for rape prevention activities." Their findings, they conclude, support "comprehensive prevention strategies that jointly address HIV risk, gender-based violence and misogynistic constructions of masculinity."—R. MacLean

Reference

1. Jewkes R et al., Rape perpetration by young, rural South African men: prevalence, patterns and risk factors, Social Science & Medicine, 2006, 63(11):2949–2961.