JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- Reeva Steenkamp, the model and law graduate shot and killed by Oscar Pistorius, was statistically just one of three women killed on Valentine's Day by an intimate partner, according to a study on violence against women that damns South Africa as having "the highest rate ever reported in research anywhere in the world."
Steenkamp's killing came the day before she planned to wear black in a "Black Friday" protest against the country's excruciatingly high number of rapes, spurred by the particularly brutal gang-rape and mutilation of a 17-year-old that made front-page news in February. The girl managed to identify an ex-boyfriend among her attackers before she died.
As the world marks International Women's Day, South Africans are locked in public soul-searching over the high level of murders and rapes perpetrated against women.
In the past month, among other cases in South Africa: a court charged a man accused of chopping up and beheading his wife with a machete; police arrested a 29-year-old accused of raping a 2-year-old toddler fighting for her life in the hospital; and police are investigating the rape of a 100-year-old great-great grandmother. Police still are hunting for two of 15 men accused of gang raping a 23-year-old woman. Her ordeal lasted hours.
Newspaper editorials and talk radio shows are examining traditional chauvinistic attitudes, gun control laws and weaknesses in the police and court systems that allow many perpetrators to walk free -- thus discouraging women from reporting. This week police disclosed that they do not have enough rape kits, needed to collect evidence.
"Of all the matrics (high school graduates) in your class, one third have been raped!" says a public education announcement on Talk Radio 702, referring to statistics that estimate more than 30 percent of girls have been raped by the time they are 18.
It seems there are few places for South African girls to be safe: Many are raped in their homes by a relative or family friend; many are raped at school, often by teachers; only a quarter are raped by someone they do not know.
In South Africa, statistics say someone gets raped every four minutes. Only 66,196 incidents were reported to police last year and their investigations led to only 4,500 convictions.
"If data for all violent assaults, rapes and other sexual assaults against women are taken into account, then approximately 200,000 adult women are reported as being attacked in South Africa every year," Lerato Moloi of the South African Institute for Race Relations said. The real figure is considerably higher, she said, since most cases never are reported.
The rate of murders of women in South Africa is equally troubling.
A woman is killed by an intimate partner every eight hours in South Africa, a probable underestimate because no perpetrator is identified in 20 percent of killings, according to a study published in August and co-authored by Professor Rachel Jewkes of the South African Medical Research Council. That is double the rate of such murders in the United States, according to the report. The study was based on a sample of deceased females aged 14 years and older at national mortuaries, since police statistics do not separate the killings of women by partners from those by strangers.
It found that although the murders of females has gone down between 1999 and 2009, as have all homicides, the percentage killed by intimate partners has increased -- from 50 percent to 57 percent. Half the women were killed by partners they were living with, 30 percent by men they were dating and 18 percent by their husbands.
The study also found rape was suspected in more than one in four of the killings. "The proportion of women killed by non-intimate partners where there was a rape has significantly increased, but those figures are hidden" in police statistics, explained Jewkes, who has been researching gender violence in South Africa for 20 years.
The study compared statistics from a similar project in 1999 to find evidence of progress in reducing such killings: "Our assumption would be if our gender-based activities were having an impact we would see a decline but there wasn't, in fact gender-based non-intimate and intimate murders have increased, though overall homicide is decreasing."
Something "is going terribly wrong," Jewkes said.
A major obstacle is the number of men who are rapists. Thirty-seven percent of men in a survey in Gauteng Province admitted they had raped a woman, according to a survey that Jewkes did with other academics. Gauteng is the smallest but most populated province of South Africa.