JOHANNESBURG - When a 17-year-old girl said to have the mental capacity of a 5-year-old was reported missing four weeks ago in the sprawling South African township of Soweto, police distributed her photo and asked neighbourhood residents for help.
Then a video emerged of seven men and boys raping the girl. Within a day of media alerting them to the video, police said, they found the girl Wednesday in a house across Soweto from her home. Eight men and boys were arrested on charges of kidnapping and rape.
The women's league of the governing African National Congress said the video, apparently recorded on a cellphone, was widely circulated on the Internet and via cellphones. The league said it again raises questions about South Africans' attitudes toward rape and women in a country with horrifyingly high rape statistics.
"When does it become acceptable amongst a group of peers to rape a girl and laugh about it? It just makes one sick to the stomach," the league said in a statement Wednesday.
The league commended a mother who saw the video clip on her child's mobile phone and ensured it came to the attention of the police, and urged other parents to monitor what their children are doing with new technology and new media.
Police spokesman Kay Makhubela said soon after learning of the video Tuesday, police, with help from people in Soweto, arrested seven men who appeared in the video. Some of the suspects identified the girl's possible location in sprawling Soweto, and police moved through that neighbourhood Wednesday, announcing on loudspeakers that they planned to search every home.
The eighth suspect then surrendered and the girl was found in his home, Makhubela said. He described her as quiet and apparently traumatized, and said she was taken first to counsellors and then to a hospital.
Makhubela said anyone found to have passed along the video could face criminal charges.
According to the most recent police statistics, more than 66,000 rapes and other sexual offences were reported in South Africa in the year ending in early 2011. Experts say many rapes go unreported because the victims are ashamed or afraid, or because they believe police will not act.
The state news agency BuaNews quoted South Africa's minister for women's affairs, Lulu Xingwana, as calling the gang rape "despicable." Xingwana added that with the wide distribution of the video of the attack, the victim "is now subjected to a second assault on her dignity."