About the (in)famous “rape capitals of the world”

Today, while going through my daily news review, I once more read the old and used “rape capital of the world” song in a press article[1]. As usual, it annoyed me and, since the article was about South Africa and not DRC for once, I thought “how many capitals does the rape-world have?” The question is not just ironic.

So how many rape capitals does our despicable world have indeed? I first read this tag attributed to DRC, due to its compelling statistics on sexual violence, initially as result from war, now gradually turning into a structural issue. Fair point, rates are high due to numerous historic and factual reasons, yet the articles using this expression make it sound as if every woman in DRC had been raped at some point of her life. Some Congolese friends from Bukavu once told me “we are tired of the image the international press is giving us. When we see visiting foreigners looking at us from the window their Land Cruisers, we have a feeling they see us all as rape victims, and somehow put us in that “box””. The effects of sensationalist journalism.

Then came press articles about rapes in South Africa, reporting within others “500,000 rapes per year”, therefore also deserving the “title” of “rape capital of the world”, as if this were a macabre race to be won or lost like the Olympics. As if rapes were a matter of statistics. I’ve never visited South Africa, but when I will, how will I view the women I come across to in its townships? This banana selling mother, or that university student? Will my opinion of them be altered by all these reads on statistics? Will I subconsciously wonder which have been raped and which haven’t while I talk to them? Hopefully not. But maybe I, or other readers of such articles will.

There have also recently been numerous articles about high rape statistics and resulting impunity in India and, guess what? That country also is reported to be the “rape capital of the world[2]”! Here again, many voices, mostly from Indian women, reacted negatively to this tagging, so journalists and bloggers dropped the “rape capital of the world” game to rather work on the much less controversial “rape capital of India” one[3]. As if there were medals at stake…

But wait… some other statistics suggest that the “rape capital of the world” is… Sweden[4], “because of Islamic immigration”! ! Now this is confusing. DRC? South Africa ? Sweden? Muslims? Or is the “rape capital of the world” actually the US army, where some reports mention one woman out of three raped by “fellow troops[5]”?

I believe all these articles and sensationalist journalists got it terribly wrong. Rape never was, and never will be a question of statistics. Every case has its story, actors, and wounds.

Statistics are flawed from the start regarding sexual violence. Everywhere in the world, a large part of cases are not reported, because of culture, of fear of social/judiciary reprisals, or simply for feeling that reporting it wouldn’t make a difference. Not all countries or institutions are equally affected. Who knows for sure what percentage of cases of sexual violence are actually reported in Saudi Arabia, Iran, or rural China? Or in institutions working with a certain level of confidentiality such as the armies or police forces worldwide?

So, if we can’t know for sure, what is the point of trying to find a “rape capital of the world”? Even if we could, would there still be a point, other than selling newspapers using sensationalist wording on emotional issues?

What is to remember is that rape is a worldwide issue, requiring worldwide attention, everywhere. That wherever the attention is not sufficient or released, rapes increase. That countries who suffer a military (like DRC) or social (South Africa and India) war are more vulnerable to high cases of rapes, as well as to high rates of violence and crime in general. That we are all concerned, with our lives, behaviours, and way we educate our children – especially boys.

My request to journalists and bloggers writing on sexual violence therefore is as follows: please report on causes, gaps, successful and failed initiatives to fill them, and possible way forwards rather than on partial and rather useless statistics, to add substance to emotions. And by God, avoid the empty, offensive, totally unneeded and unproven by nature tagging of “rape capital of the world”, particularly when it comes to places you’ve never even visited.

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