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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

South Africa has one of the highest incidences of rape in the world. Yet many who treat victims, as well as abusers, say rape is not being given high priority by the police, the courts or the government. Many rapists are either not caught or receive light sentences. And victims often face indifference in hospitals and in the criminal justice system. But a few programs are trying to make a difference.

NPR's Charlayne Hunter-Gault in Johannesburg has part two of her series on rape in South Africa. A warning, this story contains graphic descriptions.

Mr. DANIEL RADEBE (Social Worker, Teddy Bear Clinic): …(Foreign language spoken) there's a rite of passage in Kukong (ph).

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: This lecture about rites of passage could easily be an after-school session for boys about to become young men. And it is about a rite of passage, only this one is from teenager to juvenile offender. Each of nine boys sitting around a table and ranging from 14 to 19 has been convicted of rape. But South Africa tries to keep young offenders, 18 and under, out of jail, referring them instead to a diversion program like this one in Soweto, run by an NGO called the Teddy Bear Clinic.

Mr. RADEBE (Social Worker, Teddy Bear Clinic): (Foreign language spoken)

HUNTER-GAULT: Daniel Radebe is a social worker with the Teddy Bear Clinic, a privately funded program and the only one of its kind working to rehabilitate young abusers, as well as their victims. There are only three clinics in the region, but there are plans to expand to other locations around the country when they raise the money. The staff has worked with 565 sexual offender cases, a drop in the bucket in a nation that reports tens of thousands of rapes annually.

Radebe talks to these nine boys about sex and appropriate responses to arousal. He says he wants them to understand he appreciates the poor environment they come out of, many without fathers and many with a feeling of entitlement toward girls.

Mr. RADEBE: Treating young girls badly is something that is asserted in their community.

HUNTER-GAULT: But Radebe says he tries to help them understand this is wrong.

Mr. RADEBE: These are young boys that they always think that girls need to be submissive to them in order for them to get that access. And in order to really break that cycle in the society, you have think with them beyond that. And one of the things that is working with us is that we always encourage them to think before they act and take age as a sense of responsibility.

HUNTER-GAULT: Radebe says many of these young men have never been taught appropriate responses to women. For example, when they see a young girl in a short sexy skirt and are aroused…

Mr. RADEBE: You ask them how do they feel now when they see young girls wearing short skirt. You don't want them to castrate their own penis. You want them to castrate the act. You castrate the act, but you don't want to castrate their penises. You know you want the erection to be there, but you want them to treat these young girls as equal.

HUNTER-GAULT: Some of the young offenders said they didn't understand what rape was or that it was a crime, such as this 14-year-old.

Unidentified Man: When I raped my cousin, I didn't realize that I was going to get AIDS. I didn't know nothing about it, and I didn't think that it was rape.

(Soundbite of clinic)

HUNTER-GAULT: In the same complex housing the Teddy Bear Clinic in Soweto, is a sexual offenses court. Young boys lounge around in interior gardens surrounded by small courtrooms. It looks like junior high school during a class break. But these boys are accused of crimes and are waiting for their cases to be called.

Some have come more than once, only to have the case postponed, either because the prosecution wasn't ready, the lawyer didn't show up, or the judge was unavailable. Dario Dosio, a judge at the court, says he thinks HIV/AIDS has played a large role in the increase in numbers of young offenders.

Judge DARIO DOSIO (Sexual Offenses Court): Parents are dying as a result of the disease. And as a result, there's just no adequate parenting. This definitely contributes to the youth not being exposed to strong emotional attachments.

HUNTER-GAULT: Rape is a worsening problem in South Africa - some call it a silent epidemic. The most recent police statistics show that 55,000 rapes were reported between 2005 and 2006. Police insist the numbers are declining, but they're disputed by any number of nongovernmental organizations who argue that only one in 20 rapes is reported. Of those cases, 40 percent were committed on children under 18. Again, Judge Dosio.

Judge DOSIO: We do find also adults raping young children. I think this is, again, an indication of our economic situation. It unfortunately creates situations where adults are at home, they are unemployed and they are exposed to seeing young children.

HUNTER-GAULT: A new sexual offenses act was passed in 2007, widening the definition of rape beyond only vaginal penetration and including rape of boys. But many cases still are dismissed for lack of or botched evidence. The anti-poverty agency ActionAid reported for every 25 men accused of rape in South Africa, 24 walked free. Judge Dosio says more help is needed to deal with offenders.

Judge DOSIO: We do not have all the answers and the solutions, but we're working towards it. And we really do need whatever assistance is available in the form of forensic psychiatrists living in this country or forensic psychiatrists living out of this country, abroad, who have more knowledge how to treat offenders.

HUNTER-GAULT: Judge Dosio says it's not a lost cause. But it is a cause crying out for justice.

Charlayne Hunter-Gault, NPR News, Soweto, South Africa.

WERTHEIMER: You can go back and read part one of Charlayne Hunter-Gault's report on South Africa's silent epidemic. It's on our Web site npr.org.

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