Throughout modern history, Africa has been plagued with pandemic problems that hinder social, economic, and political development. The AIDS epidemic and violence are two such problems many developing African countries are facing today. War has created an environment across Africa in which violence is accepted. Rape, a common violent crime against women in Africa, is even more devastating to women living in populations where 20-50 percent of the male population tests HIV positive. Human Rights Watch released a research study in November of 2003 stating that violence and discrimination against women is fueling the African AIDS crisis, citing that in some African countries females are seven times more likely to be HIV positive than males. The World Health Organization reported that two-thirds of HIV positive women in Rwanda became infected as the result of rape. In South Africa an estimated 1.6 million rapes occur per year and the risk of HIV after rape is 40 percent (ALLAFRICA).


African officials are attempting to address the rape problem by changing laws and restructuring court systems. Recently, South Africa created 36 “rape courts” which have specially trained judges and prosecutors that only handle sexual violence cases (Women’s News). South Africa has also adopted a new law that demands HIV tests from rapists (Business Day South Africa). Uganda has adopted a law in which a person’s head is chopped off if he is convicted of sexually assaulting a minor, and Zambia will soon be castrating convicted rapists (The Times of India). These changes suggest that rape is being addressed, but why does the incidence of rape continue to grow? An unresponsive justice system, poverty, and government resistance are a few factors impeding the reduction of rape.


In Johannesburg in 1998 only 3,500 out of 54,000 rape cases made it to court (ALLAFRICA). In one Jo’burg district where there are 114 rapes a month, there are only 14 police officers and they share one computer and 4 vehicles. In Pretoria, South Africa, one rapist’s sentence was suspended because the five-year old girl he raped was not a virgin. 75 percent of South African rapes are gang rapes; most gangs prevent victims from seeking justice by terrorizing the victim and her family after the rape. The entire country of Zambia does not have a single forensic facility; all specimens are sent to South Africa, which takes months and is extremely expensive. In South Africa, Zambia, and Botswana the incidence of child rape has increased by up to 60 percent, with 33 percent of child rapists being school teachers (Center for Disease Control). In one rape court in Soweto, 70 percent of the cases are child rape (Christian Science Monitor). Furthermore, the Center for Disease Control reports that 72 percent of pregnant teenagers in South Africa had coercive sex. A research study by the Gender and Health Unit at the Medical Research Council reports that 20 percent of surveyed men do not believe that having sex with a child 10 years of age or younger is rape.


Child rape in schools is not only a violation of the body but also a discriminatory barrier to female education. The second class status of women and girls must be eliminated for African countries to reach their fullest potential. When African governments begin to seriously address the issue of violence against women they will not only be addressing basic human rights but also taking a step forward in the fight against AIDS.



Through the Vanderbilt Traveling Fellowship, I plan to visit Botswana, South Africa, Uganda, and Zambia to address issues of violence against women. South Africa is important to my study because it is the most developed of the four countries having more advanced justice and social systems addressing rape than Botswana, Uganda, and Zambia. South Africa also has the highest occurrence of rape in the World (Contemporary Women’s Issues). Botswana and Zambia have also had significant increases in rape and have yet to widely recognize the link between AIDS and violence. Uganda is important because, unlike the other three countries, Uganda has been “successful” in fighting the AIDS epidemic. Learning how Uganda’s leaders have addressed the link between HIV and rape will be beneficial. The goals of my project are:


  1. To be knowledgeable in how justice systems deal with, or neglect to deal with violence against women.
  2. Use my knowledge of the inadequacies of the justice systems to assist nongovernmental organizations (NGO) in utilizing their resources to fill the gaps in the justice system.
  3. Build relationships between NGOs in the various countries so they might share experiences, failures and successes, and methods of addressing violence against women.


My initial research will be a study of the legal system with respect to rape. Inadequate justice systems in all of the above countries are often blamed for the high prevalence of rape. ALLAFRICA, the largest source for news in Africa, reports that 93% of accused rapists walk free. The warning the legal system has given by not supporting rape victims is implicit; rapists will rape because they can and they are allowed to.


In each country I plan to address three main components of the justice system:


  1. What are the laws?
  2. Are the laws enforced? How?
  3. How accessible and useful is the justice system to victims?


I will conduct this research by attending rape courts and recording observations including the procedure and outcome of rape cases. I also plan to shadow the defense lawyers and the prosecution lawyers in separate rape trials. By working with both the prosecution and defense I will have a holistic understanding of the justice system. After completion of this research I will design a chart that evaluates each country’s laws, law enforcement, and system accessibility. The chart will be a resource for NGOs, as it will detail the strengths and weaknesses of the system, utilizing both qualitative and quantitative accounting.


The next stage of my research project will focus on nongovernmental organizations in Botswana, South Africa, Uganda, and Zambia. After gaining extensive knowledge of the justice system I plan to immerse myself in several NGOs in each country in order to record the resources available to rape victims. The two types of organizations I will focus on are “one-stop” rape centers and child rape centers. I hope to answer two basic questions during my research at NGOs:


  1. What resources do NGOs have?
  2. How does each NGO distribute its resources?

After working with NGOs I will combine the justice system research with the NGO research to analyze not only the strengths of the each country’s rape assistance programs but also define the areas in which victims lack the resources necessary for a full recovery. With this information I plan to diagram the trends in NGO resource distribution in relation to available government resources. For example, NGOs and government agencies may be simultaneously contributing their resources to the same problem. Concentrating all resources in one problem area can leave major gaps in resource and assistance allocation to other areas of need. Furthermore, by examining the identified gaps I will be able to locate problems that, when addressed, solve other associated issues. For example, distributing more resources to obtain anti-retroviral drugs that are known to be 100% effective in preventing HIV when given within 72 hours of rape (ALLAFRICA) not only provides assistance to rape victims but also prevents the spread of HIV.


With a one-year fellowship I cannot change or reorganize a foreign government. I cannot change the social climate to eliminate rape or child rape in Africa. However, I can evaluate the efficacy of the programs that are available to victims and contribute my knowledge, resources, and research to the development of more effective assistance. Due to poverty and government resistance, NGOs are currently the most effective way to bring about change. NGOs have the opportunity to tailor their programs to address the needs of their clients. By illustrating inadequacies in government victim assistance programs, I hope to help the NGOs I am working with create new programs and distribute their resources in a more effective manner. Coupling the new NGO programs with government assistance will give rape victims the opportunity to obtain the necessary assistance and resources to begin the road to recovery.


Personal Statement

I have acquired many skills that are relevant to the research and work that I am trying to accomplish during my fellowship. While working at the Ronald McDonald House I was trained in Play Therapy, therapy designed to promote recovery through age appropriate activities and games. This skill will be extremely beneficial when working with raped children. Furthermore, last summer I was an intern at the District Attorney’s Office. My main responsibilities were to interview domestic violence victims, educate victims about the criminal justice system, prepare victims and witnesses for testimony, provide resources to victims, and act as a liaison between district attorney’s and victims. These experiences changed my beliefs, goals, and dreams.


Looking to the future, I intend to continue my education and obtain either a law degree with a focus on women’s issues or a PhD in Gender Relations. My experience as a Traveling Fellow will not only help me gain experience in the field of Gender Studies but also broaden my knowledge of issues confronting women around the globe. After working within the United States Justice system as a victim advocate and with non-profit victim support agencies, I have an understanding of what resources are available to US victims and what type of experiences victims have within the justice system. I have encountered gaps in our system and recognize the effects that lack of assistance and resources have on a victim’s recovery. Having worked in the imperfect US justice system, I find it difficult to comprehend how few resources are available to African rape victims. I plan to dedicate my future to women’s rights advocacy, and I believe it is a duty to consider and learn from all cultures, not simply my own. It is with this greater mission in mind that I find myself traveling to Africa to study rape and understand the female experience around the world.