'They are good boys'

20 April 2012 - 02:08 By GRAEME HOSKEN
An accused in the gang-rape of a 17-year-old girl, outside the Roodepoort Magistrate's Court.
An accused in the gang-rape of a 17-year-old girl, outside the Roodepoort Magistrate's Court.
Image: ALON SKUY

These are some of the traits attributed to the seven young men accused of gang-raping a mentally disabled Soweto teenager by their friends and relatives.

The comments were made against a backdrop of national outrage at what the young men have been accused of doing - gang-raping a 17-year-old girl who has the mental capacity of a five-year-old - and video-taping her ordeal.

Battling emotions as she held her hands tightly together, the grandmother of one of the accused teenagers - sitting on a bench outside Roodepoort Magistrate's Court E - described the youth with a sad smile. This was just before he was brought into court under heavy police guard.

To her, he is just "a lovely boy".

"He's not bad. He can't have done this. This is not my boy. There has been a mistake. He can't be this monster people say he is. I know that he is not evil," she said.

Her battle to comprehend his alleged atrocity came as the friend of another accused told of that family's refusal to accept their son's role in the assault.

"It is just not true. It cannot be they who did this. They are good boys. They are little children. Can it really be them? Did he really do this terrible thing?" she asked.

Their desperate search for answers about what allegedly made their "good boys" do this came as dozens of ANC Women's League members, and women and children's rights activists, bayed for the blood of the accused outside court.

Their anger was expressive and crude at times. One green-uniformed league member held aloft a poster that read: "Monsters. Cut the penis. No bail."

Other demonstrators called for them to be "necklaced" and their homes torched. They vowed to hunt the young men and their families down should they be released on bail.

"Why must we listen to the government? The government has said we must not take the law into our own hands, but when this happens and continues to happen, with police doing nothing to help us, we will not listen.

"We're going to burn them. We're going to bring back the necklace and show them what we do to such monsters," said ANC Women's League member Albertina Sishuba.

But the search for answers and clues as to what could have turned "god-fearing" young men into an alleged frenzied gang of rapists has led to startling insights.

Professor Rachel Jewkes, the Medical Research Council's gender and health research unit director, said recent studies in KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and Gauteng showed that one in 10 men had been involved in a gang rape.

Jewkes said that in Gauteng 7% of men had been involved in gang rapes, and in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal 9%.

"The studies show gang rapes are carried out by young men either as a right of passage or by men seeking entertainment, and testing their boundaries and power over women.

"What is happening is a frightening and very common problem, which is increasing as older youths teach and show younger ones how to carry out these horrendous acts.

"The most common motivation is that it is fun and that the rapists, who do not see themselves as monsters, are entitled to do what they do, with vulnerable women specifically targeted," Jewkes said.

Pretoria University criminologist Christiaan Bezuidenhout said parents were often flabbergasted to find that their "good children" could do bad things.

"What parents forget is that children become adolescents, with one of the key elements of this phase being experimentation and the testing of boundaries and the consequences of their actions.

"Along with this, every person has two identities: one of which is your personal identity, which you show your parents and your teachers; the other is your social identity, which comes out when you are with friends.

"Combine these elements with the group psyche, a strong leader and a vulnerable victim, and you have the perfect recipe for deviant behaviour.

"It doesn't matter if the victim is mentally disabled. In fact, this makes her an even more attractive target," Bezuidenhout said.

Sonke Gender Justice Network spokesman Mbuyiselo Botho said South Africa's tolerance of sexual violence had led to an increase in attacks "which are being carried out with impunity".

"These attacks are carried out because of a sense of entitlement. In South Africa, women are fair game, with men carrying out attacks because they know they will get away with it.

"The group mentality around gang rapes comes from young people wanting to prove themselves as real men, masculine, strong and in control.

"The thinking is that, to be in control, you must conquer a woman, with those involved in such rapes feeding off and affirming each other's bravery and dominance.

Botho said the "ritual-like" attacks were becoming worse.

National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga said the case had been postponed for further investigation, with the minors placed in protective custody.

"The investigations are at an infancy stage. We are obtaining a psychiatric report into the girl's mental status as we do not know if she is mentally unstable.

"We also have to determine the conditions for any possible release in respect of the minors," he said.

The seven will appear in court on Wednesday on preliminary charges of rape, sexual assault, engaging the sexual services of a minor for reward, using a minor to create pornography and committing a sexual act in the presence of a minor.

They will also be charged with contravention of the Films and Publications Act for creating, possessing and distributing child pornography.

MOTHERS HELPLESS

ABANDONED by the system and left to fend for herself, a Soweto mother, whose disabled daughter narrowly escaped a gang rape, has pleaded for support.

The appeal for justice by the woman - a neighbour of one of the accused - was made as another mother, who attended yesterday's proceedings in the Roodepoort Magistrate's Court, described how she had been battling for nearly 20 years for justice for her daughter who was raped by three men.

"No one listens to us. No one listened to my daughter when she was raped and no one listens now," she said.

"When my daughter was nine and raped we went to the police to ask for help. I was told to walk the streets with her to find her attackers before I made a case.

"When I go to the same police station today, I am told the same thing. The police did not care then because my daughter was disabled and they do not care now.

"All I want is justice for my child," she said.

The neighbour of one of the accused said disabled women who were victims of crime were never taken seriously by the police.

"That is how life is and we must just live with it," she said.

Neither mother can be named in order to protect their daughters' identities. - Graeme Hosken

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