One in four women in the mining town of Rustenburg in South Africa’s North West Province has been raped, according to a study conducted by the global medical charity, MSF, or Doctors without Borders, which adds that this has resulted in extremely high levels of psychological problems among the victims.

This emerged at the First South African National Conference on Violence taking place in Boksburg, east of Johannesburg. The conference has brought together researchers and policy makers to look at ways of reducing crime in the country.

The survey conducted on almost 1,000 women has revealed how prevalent sexual violence is in the mining town.

Dr Amir Shroufi from MSF said this was a worrying trend, as it had resulted in extremely high levels of psychological problems in the victims. However, he could not say whether the problem was linked to the high prevalence of mines in the area.

Shroufi said that this worrying trend was spreading a lot of diseases across the town. “What we have found is that one in four women in Rustenburg has been raped at some part of time in their life. So, that’s an extremely high level, that’s a problem with health consequences, such as HIV and other infectious diseases, that are caused. It’s also a problem for the psychological consequences, depression and anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress and represents a lot of suffering and disease across the population.”

Limpopo is another province which has seen a large number of rape incidents. Over the last two years in Thohoyandou in the province, 699 cases of rape were reported. However, less than five per cent of alleged offenders have been prosecuted.

Craig Cargy from Britain’s Oxford University said this was a very alarming number and serious measures needed to be put in place to secure more convictions.

“I think it’s really important that we start examining the entire care system to ensure that survivors and victims of assault and child abuse are entered into a system that leads to prosecutorial outcomes.”

It also emerged that more and more young people aged between 15 and 19 are falling victim to crime. In her presentation, Dr Luanne Swart from the University of South Africa (UNISA) said many adolescents were killed during street robberies. She said alcohol abuse by young people played a leading role.

It has also been highlighted that half of female victims between the ages of 15 and 19 are killed by either their boyfriends or ex-boyfriends. This is a particularly complex problem in Johannesburg, she said, adding that access to weapons needed to be better controlled in order to reduce the number of such incidents.

“Access to weapons and particularly guns, that needs to be better controlled and also the use of alcohol, there is a very risky pattern of alcohol abuse amongst adolescent, and the population in general and that is drinking to intoxicate. And what you find is that many of the homicide victims that did use alcohol, around 90% of them exceeded the limit – so that means that they were quite intoxicated… and then also looking at issues of masculinity, because these occur in situations or scenes of street parties, bars and those kinds of contexts were drinking and violence are all seen to be masculine forms of behaviour.”