In post-apartheid South Africa, justice is pursued in a variety of forums. This is especially the case with sexual harm, which is historically dealt with in a number of ways. From courtrooms to chiefs’ tribunals, church services to university grievance hearings, living rooms to hair salons, this project describes how survivors and their loved ones seek justice inside and outside of courtrooms. By following complaints of unwanted sex, this study argues that material and discursive practices of redress shape indeterminate experiences of undesirable sex into recognizable categories of transgression. The project finds that categories of harm arise from different notions of normative sex, intentionality, and personhood that crosscut sites of redress. This study opens new inquiries into the conception of legal pluralism while also answering a wider call for empirically grounded research on the perils and potentials of righting sexual wrongs by way of criminal prosecution and its others.


ACLS Fellowship Program, 2022


Knowing Rape: Surfacing Ethnoracialized Victims in Post-Apartheid South Africa


Population Studies and Training Center


In South Africa, those working in and alongside law enforcement often make the claim that victims of sexual violence don't know they have been raped. The claim is leveled at ethnoracialized women, Black women living in rural areas of the country's former bantustans (“Black homeland” or native reserve). Claims of misrecognition such as these typically follow from the observation that the vast majority of women who experience non-consensual sex in South Africa do not seek assistance through legal channels. In this way, “knowing rape” is simultaneously an epistemological, phenomenological and procedural imperative. To “know rape” is to know rape as a criminal category that is defined in legal statute as non-consensual sex, the harm of which lies in liberal-legal ideas of personhood. My book explores how “knowing rape” animated efforts to recruit victims into the workings of the carceral state. Drawing on 22 months of ethnographic fieldwork in the town of Thohoyandou, South Africa, this project shows that “knowing rape” constituted a gendered civic duty, one that was tied up with moral citizenship. This was a duty disproportionately born by ethnoracialized women, women who were enjoined to embody the harm of criminal sex for the sake of the nation.