Fossil fuels could reduce sexual assault in Africa: Rick Perry, U.S Energy Secretary

A loose comment that drew a swift rebuke from environmental activists, has the U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry suggesting that the expansion of fossil fuel use in Africa would help protect people there from sexual assault; tying the sexual assault issue to lack of electricity on the continent.

On a drive for expansion of U.S oil, gas and coal output and exports, Perry, a former Texas governor made the remark while discussing a trip he made to South Africa recently, noting that a South African woman highlighted the importance of electricity to her not only for the  night reading aid it will provide but also how it will protect her from the danger of sexual assault.

South Africa is known for its notorious levels of rape as sexual violence rate in South Africa is among the highest in the world. In 2015/16 there were 51,895 sexual offenses reported to the South African Police Service.

While women’s groups in South Africa estimate that a woman is raped every 26 seconds, the South African police estimate that a woman is raped every 36 seconds.

The U.S Energy Secretary said “When the lights are on, when you have light, it shines the righteousness, if you will, on those types of acts,” in an event hosted by Axios and NBC News.

“From the standpoint of how you really affect people’s lives, fossil fuel is going to play a role in that,” he added.

On the contrary, the Sierra Club, an environmental group that campaigns for increased use of wind and solar power has called for Perry to resign after his comments, noting that “To suggest that fossil fuel development will decrease sexual assault is not only blatantly untrue, it is an inexcusable attempt to minimize a serious and pervasive issue”.

“Perry’s attempt to exploit this struggle to justify further dangerous fossil fuel development is unacceptable. He does not deserve to hold office another day with these twisted ideas” said executive director Michael Brune said in a statement.

In his defense, the Department of energy tweeted that “The Secretary was making the important point that while many Americans take electricity for granted there are people in other countries who are impacted by their lack of electricity,” adding that “The Secretary just returned from Africa … he was told how light can be a deterrent to sexual assault and can provide security in remote areas. Powerful stories like this stuck with him”.

Under the Republican party, Perry during his tenure as governor of Texas oversaw an oil and gas boom, long before Trump took office. He is an advocate for continued reliance on fossil fuels like coal and natural gas.