Male Rape in South African Prisons

Essay, 2010

9 Pages














The topic of male rape has long been misunderstood and hushed over within society. Within the prison setting, however, much of the focus over the past few years has been on the actions of male rape and its complicated place within the incarcerated society. This assignment will look deeper into male rape within the prisons of South Africa.


The aim of this assignment is to examine different aspects of male prison rape within the sociological context. It will discuss the concept of male prison rape, look at the causes and mention some of the known consequences to the rape victim, his family as well as the broader South African society. General findings will be listed as well as some recommendations to assist in the eradication of rape facing the male prisoners of South Africa.


With the extreme amounts of prisoners in South Africa, 188 307 in 2003 as given by the Institute for Race Relations (from Parker Lewis, 2003:17), the Department of Correctional Services cannot give accurate rape statistics regarding rape charges against prisoners laid by another inmate. Parker Lewis, in her work with inmates of Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town, estimates that some 80% of prisoners of 30 000 prisoners have been raped each month (2003:234). This translates into 24 000 per month adding up to 288 000 rapes in prison per year.


Rape within the prison setting “… is one of the many forms of assault (predominantly) between prisoners.” (Gear, 2007: 209). To understand the act of rape for those incarcerated one needs to understand the prison system itself. Within the prison cell “…cultural power and rule-making… lies in gangsterism, particularly a collection of gangs known as ‘the Number’ (the 28’s, 26’s, 27’s, Big 5’s, Airforce 3 and 4).” (Gear, 2005: 195) Each gang has its specific manner of operating. The gangs control everything, from sleeping space, shower facilities, illegal drug trade to illegal sexual relations in the prison. (Parker Lewis, 2003). When a new prisoner (a ‘frans’) enters the cell, he is watched by the gangs. “They will be sizing him up to see what category he fits and how they can best use him.” (Parker Lewis, 2003: 175). Sex is most likely to happen within ‘marriages’ between ‘men’ and ‘wyfies’ (wives). (Gear, 2005). The ‘wyfies’ are “seen primarily as the sexual property of the ‘men’ and are often forcibly taken as wives…They are required… to be sexually available to their partners.” (Gear, 2005: 198) To be recruited as a ‘wyfie’, inmates have usually accepted something form a member of the 28’s, e. g cigarettes or some food. Once it is accepted the new inmate now owes the gang member. “… (H)e is expected to make good this debt by providing his ‘provider’… with sex. When trying to refuse, he will learn, there is no way out. (Gear, 2005: 199). The new prisoner is then sexually penetrated (usually forcefully) and is now regarded as a ‘woman’ in the prison. Thousands of young men are recruited in this manner throughout prisons in South Africa and suffer great sexual harm during their sentenced imprisonment. Once released into society they still bear the damages of being rape victims.


Satisfying Sexual Needs.

In prison “(s)ex between men… is seen as… an outlet for men’s sexual instincts.” (Parker Lewis, 2003: 225). Since homosexuality is unaccepted, as Gear explains that the “(p)rison … subculture…is virulently…homophobic.” (2007:218). Consensual sex for pure pleasure between men as equals, is not accepted by the gangs. Thus a ‘marriage’ exists in which one partner is the ‘husband’ or ‘man’ and the other is the passive ‘wife’. (Gear, 2005). The ‘wife’ is usually coerced or raped and this relationship can be likened to “sexual slavery” (Gear 2001: 119 in Gear, 2007)

Poor Control by Authority

There are 164667 prisoners being watched by 41591 warders nationally, it’s small wonder that the prisoners are able to not get caught raping in jail. (Department of Correctional Services, 2010). Overcrowding is an issue faced by all the prisons in South Africa. Gear quotes an “… occupancy rate exceed(ing) 170%…(2007, 210).(Currently at 145% as of the last day of 2009 [Department of Correctional Services, 2010) Prison warders are therefore unable to maintain control over inmates.

Poor Response by Authority

The prison staff, being notoriously overworked due to understaffing, are “(for) majority… in denial.” (Parker Lewis, 2003: 209). Only about 1 % of rape victims in prison actually report it. (Parker Lewis, 2003). The Equality project of 2004 laments the ‘… poor state of disciplinary, legal, medical, and psychosocial procedures and services” (Gear, 2007: 215). Gear has also found denial of sexual abuse within the system. Within the Department of Correctional Services “”formal information-gathering systems… rape is captured in the general category of ‘assault’. (Gear, 2007: 215). Gear has also discovered that “(w)ithin prisons some officials are themselves involved in prison rape by selling sex targets to inmates and/ or turning a blind eye…” (i.e. to rape) (2007: 215). This unhelpful attitude does little to discourage inmates from committing rape.

Gang Culture

The all-powerful gang culture has control of the entire prison culture. (Gear, 2005: Parker Lewis, 2003). There is no fear of authority, and corruption, as explained above, allows gangs to remain untouched by sanctions to curtail their behavior. Once an inmate is raped he is considered the property of his rapist and is thus vulnerable to more rape for the duration if his stay in that prison. If any favours are given from the gang then the expected method of repayment is sex (within the 28’s, the gang also uses rape to “punish members” (Parker Lewis, 2003: 230)


For the individual victim


The victim will be in considerable pain as men are not “physically designed for penetration” (Parker Lewis, 2003: 225). More often than not, the rape will be accompanied by violence if the victim resists strongly, and faces the threat of physical assault including being murdered. (Parker Lewis, 2003). HIV is highly prevalent and the fear of contracting HIV or STDs is very real for the victim as rapists don’t use condoms in prison. The victim will feel “… nausea, headaches, sleeplessness and excessive irritability, perhaps expressed with nervous agitation.” (Parker Lewis, 2003: 231). A long-term consequence includes sexual dysfunctioning (Koss & Harvey, 1991) which may strongly impact the victims’ future sexual reproductive and family life.


Excerpt out of 9 pages


Male Rape in South African Prisons
Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University
Social & Environment Issues
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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439 KB
This text does not refer to any sociological theories.
male, rape, south, african, prisons
Quote paper
Shuhaida Adam (Author), 2010, Male Rape in South African Prisons, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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