Seven young men have appeared in a South African court as part of inquiries into the gang-rape of a teenage girl who is said to have been mentally ill and recording a mobile phone video of the attack that then went viral.
The hearing on Thursday was postponed and will resume next week, but the case has set off a wave of soul searching and outrage across the country.
In a front page editorial, the Star newspaper, one of South Africa's biggest-circulation dailies, described the incident as "Our Disgrace".
Jimmy Manyi, a South African government spokesman, called the attack a "barbaric act".
"The State cannot solely be blamed for these crimes that are taking place, there are multiple and complex reasons for this. But, the South African Justice System is failing victims/survivors of rape despite efforts to improve services "
- Lizle Loots, Medical Research Council
The case has touched a raw nerve in a country where an average of 181 people a day are raped or sexually assaulted.
The accused range in age from 14 to 20 and are suspected of holding the girl as a sex slave in a Soweto township residence, filming the rapes with a mobile phone and offering her coins to keep quiet.
The 17-year-old girl, who went missing a few weeks ago, was found by police on Wednesday in the home of a 37-year-old man, who has also been arrested. Police have not revealed the identities of any involved due to the nature of the crime.
Lizle Loots, a senior scientist at the Medical Research Council (MRC) in Johannesburg, told Al Jazeera that multiple perpetrator rape (MPR) was not uncommon in South Africa and this was most definitely not an isolated case.
"We have seen one in five cases with two or more offenders, the maximum number of men participating in a gang rape being seventeen.
"MPRs are usually more violent and the perpetrators often target victims/survivors who are most vulnerable as we see in this case. These victims/survivors may not be able to identify their perpetrators in order to seek justice," Loots said.
Successive governments have pledged to cut crime, putting more police on the street and launching high profile campaigns that have done little to reduce the violence.
According to the most recent police statistics, more than 66,000 rapes and other sexual offenses were reported in South Africa in the year ending in early 2011.
But Loots said that the state "cannot solely be blamed for these crimes that are taking place [and] there are multiple and complex reasons for this.
"But, the South African Justice System is failing victims/survivors of rape despite efforts to improve services," she said.
Massive unemployment, poverty, easy access to weapons and the lingering effects of the racial oppression of apartheid have been cited by as reasons for the persistently high levels of violent crime.
"We come from a history of violence, where people have lived and grown up using violence in order to get what they want, to settle conflicts," Lisa Vette, a gender activist, said.
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|Timothy V. Gatto|