skip to main content
Rape Viewed as Major Problem Across Sub-Saharan Africa

Rape Viewed as Major Problem Across Sub-Saharan Africa

by Christine Delmeiren

NAIROBI -- Majorities in nearly all 18 sub-Saharan African countries surveyed in 2009 say rape is a major problem in their countries. A median of 77% of sub-Saharan Africans see rape as this much of a problem, but in six countries, the percentage saying this reaches 90% or higher.

Rape major problem.gif

Gallup's survey results reaffirm the extent to which the issue of rape plagues countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including South Africa, where nearly all (97%) call it a major problem. According to Interpol, South Africa has the highest number of declared rapes in the world, with nearly half of the victims younger than 18.

Percentages who say rape is a major problem are higher than average in countries that are or have been in conflict. In some, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Kenya after the 2007 election, rape has been used as what the United Nations Security Council calls a "tactic of war." The Council in 2008 officially deemed rape a weapon that particularly targets women and girls to "humiliate, dominate, instill fear in, disperse, and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group."

Besides the psychological and physical damage they suffer and the possible health consequences (pregnancy and HIV), women who are raped also pay a high social cost. Husbands and families repudiate these women and send them away from the community. Gallup's surveys find that, on average, more than three in four residents across sub-Saharan Africa believe life after rape can never be the same (more so among women, 79%, than among men, 73%).

Sub-Saharan Africans Want Jail Time for Convicted Rapists

Nearly all of those surveyed in sub-Saharan Africa (97%) say they think rapes should be reported to the police, but in reality, few rapes are -- largely because of the social stigma -- and those that are reported rarely lead to convictions. When asked in an open-ended question what they believe should be the sentence for anyone convicted of rape, opinions differ somewhat across countries, but people are most likely to mention jail sentences, the death penalty, and castration.

Sentence for rap.gif

Bottom Line

Most in sub-Saharan Africa see rape as a major problem in their respective countries, and one that changes victims' lives forever. Although reporting rapes to police doesn't happen that often in reality, there is public support for it and for perpetrators to at least serve jail time for their crimes, which suggests the culture of impunity could someday change.

For complete data sets or custom research from the more than 150 countries Gallup continually surveys, please contact or call 202.715.3030.

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews with approximately 1,000 adults each in Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe, aged 15 and older, conducted in April to December 2009. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of error ranged from a low of ±3.5 percentage points in Ivory Coast and Niger to a high of ±4.8 percentage points in Senegal. For results based on demographic subgroups, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of error is between ±1 and ±2 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030