Johannesburg - Only countries at war suffer as much sexual violence as South Africa, Doctors Without Borders said on Thursday in a global report highlighting the problem of rape.
"The figures we have are alarming, but they are just a tip of the iceberg as most cases go unreported," said Meinie Nicolai, operational director for the group, known by its French initials MSF.
"In conflicts rape can be used to humiliate, punish, control, inflict fear and destroy communities," MSF said in the report. "In times of stability, sexual violence is also a grave problem, devastating health and lives," it said. Some of the countries that suffer the most rapes include Liberia, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa and Colombia.
On average in those countries, 35 women are raped every day, MSF said. Although sexual violence is exacerbated in war, MSF says it also affects millions of people living in post-conflict countries or even in stable environments. In South Africa, rape is associated with criminal activity and domestic violence.
"We have noticed that rape in societies has become normal, it has become normal to be raped," said Janine Josias, an MSF doctor working in Khayelitsha, outside Cape Town.
Khayelitsha has one of the highest rape incidences in a country where it is estimated that a woman is violated every 26 seconds. But Josias said a growing number of men were also being raped. "We have seen a growing number of males who are victims of rape. Generally boys and men go unrecognised and untreated," she said.
Women still make up the vast majority of victims, however. In 2007, MSF treated over 12 000 victims of sexual assault worldwide, in both conflict settings and stable environments.