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South Africa: Gang rape and prostitution

Publish Date: 17 Mar 2004

Source: The Cape Times
By: Jo-Anne Smertherham

Kathy* was 13 when Cape Flats gangsters, threatening to kill her family if she disobeyed them, first forced her into selling her body.

She was raped by seven gangsters before her life of prostitution began, she said. She had no choice but to submit to the rape because, minutes earlier, a gangster had put a gun into her friend's mouth and shot her dead. He said the same thing would happen to her if she resisted.

Kathy is one of many young city women who are forced into prostitution by gangsters. Often the men knock on doors, demanding to take the girls away. Sometimes, as in Kathy's case, the girl knows the men before becoming a captive.

The Cape Times learnt that large numbers of young women are also selling their bodies because they have no other form of income. A family in Kleinvlei, near Kuils River, said they knew nine young women in their block who had sold their bodies at some stage.

Kathy and her friend Tracey, also a former teenage prostitute, told their stories yesterday at the Melton Rose premises of Teen Challenge, a Christian non-government organisation working with gangsters and young prostitutes.

Kathy was raped twice by her stepfather before she was 10, and because she didn't tell anybody, "the hurt built up inside".

She often went out with her cousin, a gangster, and became addicted to drugs. Once in the gang she was typically sold for around R400 after "a process of negotiation".

"One guy controlled me," she said. "I had to sleep with him and others, often taxi drivers. After a while I became the one to be selling my two friends' bodies. I had so much hurt in my heart, I decided to use other people to make money instead of being used myself."

Eventually Kathy's mother insisted that she go to Teen Challenge. Her two friends are still with the gang.

"It breaks me up inside if I think of them," she said.

Tracey, now 18, sold sex for about a year on the streets between Diep River and Wynberg, often four times a night. Her face tightens as she tells her story.

"It's very difficult to say this, but if God can use me to help someone else's life, I will do it."

She was raped twice by her stepfather before she turned 10. Her older nephew raped her seven times. A group of gangsters also raped her twice, as did individual gangsters. "I thought I was cursed," she said. "I became totally addicted to drugs."

Selling her body made her "hard and very, very numb".

"But it was really, really hectic," she said. "Sometimes I would black out, usually at home, because of it all. Other times I would crack and I burnt myself with cigarette butts, just to try and make myself feel something."

She was initiated into a satanic group by having sex with all the priests, priestesses and others. "I look back at it now and I just see a dark patch," she said.

Margaret, a young woman living in Kleinvlei, once sold her body for three weeks simply to feed her child. Her sister was kidnapped by a gang while she was out walking, to be used as a prostitute.

Poverty, they say, has forced nine young women they know into prostitution. "It's an illness in this place," said Margaret.

Kraaifontein police station communications officer Gerhard Niemand, who previously worked at an area office for 22 police stations, said allegations abounded about young girls being abducted. But police investigations were hampered by lack of evidence.

Few people reported kidnapping cases and community members seldom gave information for fear of reprisals from gangsters, he said.

Fanie Hammerse, a Kleinvlei resident and volunteer for Teen Challenge, said: "Most young boys around here come under pressure to join a gang, and I'd say most young girls to sell their bodies, either by force or of their own free will."

* The names of the young women have been changed, at their request.

©2004 The Cape Times