Sexual violence in South Africa today is often discussed through shocking statistics. Estimates suggest that one in three women will be raped in their lifetime and 28 percent of men in a recent survey admitted to rape. Yet public understanding often stops there; such dismaying figures trigger revulsion but not more nuanced explorations of how sexual violence is conceptualised, experienced, and addressed by the country’s population. Furthermore, media reporting of South Africa’s “rape crisis” encourages perceptions of sexual violence as a distinctly post-apartheid problem, ignoring the much longer history of rape and abuse across the country’s segregationist and apartheid periods.

South Africa’s Hidden War aims to develop the first extensive history of sexual violence from the 1940s to the present. It does so with an explicit focus on the voices of those most affected by this violence – women and girls – taking them as expert authorities on their own experiences. It will explore how women have conceptualised, experienced, and sought justice against the ubiquitous violence that shapes their day-to-day lives. By taking a historical approach and asking questions about women’s experiences over time it will foster more historically and culturally specific understandings of sexual violence in South Africa – knowledge essential for tackling the country’s current crisis in effective ways.

Any questions about the project can be directed to Emily Bridger (e.j.bridger@exeter.ac.uk).