Understanding Rape in South Africa

Understanding Rape in South Africa


What is the legal definition of rape in South Africa?

The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act 32 of 2007 says that rape is a crime where someone ‘intentionally commits a sexual act with another person without that person’s consent:

Any person who unlawfully and intentionally commits an act of sexual penetration with a complainant, without the consent of the complainant is guilty of the offence of rape.

Rape is the opposite of consent. Consent is when someone says yes to something without being persuaded or forced. When it comes to sex, this means that someone freely, willingly and purposely says yes to a sexual act, and they understand what they are saying yes to.


According to the law someone cannot say yes to sex when:

  • They are forced into a sexual act by violence or threat of violence to themselves, a loved one, or their property;
  • If they are drunk, drugged, asleep, unconscious or mentally challenged.
  • If an adult is having sex with a person younger than 16.
  • If they are forced to say yes by someone who has power over them, such as a boss, or a teacher;
  • If they are deceived by a person in authority who makes them believe that they need to take part in a sexual act for their physical, emotional or spiritual health.


According to the law is any sexual act, where:

  • The genital organs of one person pass into or through the genital organs, anus or mouth of another person;
  • Any other part of the body of one person, or any object, pass into or through the genital organs or anus of another person.

This definition is gender neutral. Any one can be raped, no matter their gender.