Journal article

Rape, race, and respectability in a South African port city East London, 1870-1927

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Publication Details

Author list: Thornberry E

Publisher: SAGE Publications (UK and US)

Publication year: 2016

Journal: Journal of Urban History

Volume number: 42

Issue number: 5

Start page: 863

End page: 880

Total number of pages: 18

ISSN: 0096-1442

eISSN: 1552-6771



In late 19th century and early 20th century South Africa, public panics about black men who raped white women (the “black peril”) provided a potent framework for mobilizing racial nationalism. The experiences of women who attempted to prosecute sexual assaults, however, were more complicated than the black peril panics might suggest. In the port city of East London, the English-speaking elite who dominated the judicial system judged women according to norms of respectability derived from middle-class British culture. Both black women and poorer white women, particularly German and Afrikaans speakers, found it difficult to measure up to these standards and, as a result, were rarely believed when they brought forward complaints of rape. This skepticism of rape complaints persisted even when white women accused black men of rape, since the typical victim in such cases was a white woman whose social life already transgressed the racial boundaries required by respectability.


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Last updated on 2017-21-04 at 18:07