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Thursday, 12 October, 2000, 10:13 GMT 11:13 UK
South Africa: Biter bit
Alexandria township
Most rape victims are aged between 10 and 14
By Carolyn Dempster in Johannesburg

The 30-year-old woman who ran into the Actonville police station east of Johannesburg was in a state of deep emotional distress.

She told police how, en route to the Harry Gwala squatter settlement outside the city of Benoni, she was accosted by a young man who attempted to undress and rape her.

She explained how he had tried to stick his tongue down her throat.

At this point in the story, the woman produced her evidence to the police.

It was the offending tongue.

Evidence

In a moment of panic and foresight she had bitten off the young man's tongue, held on to it, and hot-footed it to the nearest police station.

While she was still giving her statement to the police , 21-year-old Sifiso Masuku came running into the police station in search of urgent medical assistance.

He was, quite literally, speechless - he had no tongue.

South African policeman
Police are seen as unsympathetic
The police promptly arrested him and took him to a surgeon who told him it would be impossible to sew the tongue back on.

But it is going to be used in evidence against him.

Sifiso has appeared briefly in court on a charge of attempted rape and robbery.

A recent survey published by the Medical Research Council on the incidence of rape of young women has revealed that the occurrence of rape and attempted rape in South Africa is nine times higher than the figure reflected in police statistics.

Victimisation fear

The survey of 11,500 women between the ages of 11 and 49 found that the majority who had been raped, were raped between the ages of 10 and 14, usually by school teachers or family members and friends.

Rape is also chronically under-reported in South Africa because rape survivors are still stigmatised in many communities.

Women who have been raped fear repeated victimisation by the rapist if he is still at large, and a dismissive and intolerant police attitude.

In this case though, the evidence was hard to ignore.

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18 Sep 00 | Africa
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