Rape is so common in South Africa that we have developed a “rape culture” that allows us to dismiss, joke about or condone rape. Rape has been normalised to such an extent that victims - which now include little babies - are blamed when the crime has been committed against them. How did we lose our humanity to such an extent?
“I could rape you, you know that?” I stood still for a second and looked into his eyes, never in my life had I heard anyone say that to me. He said it with such ease as if he was asking to be passed the salt.
This man had been to my cottage countless times to fix the geyser, the electricity and not once had I truly looked at him until he uttered those words as I opened the gate to let him out (he spent the morning fixing the plumbing).
“You would enjoy it, you wouldn’t scream and when I was done, I would walk out knowing I could come another time”. This was the man my landlord sent over every time I or the other tenants had a maintenance problem.
As my mind raced, my heart beat against my chest like a wild drum, it dawned on me that this man had been to my place many a time and every time he came with three or more other males who stood around as he worked. He had been over at night when my electricity failed me for three days. He smiled tenderly at me, as if we were lovers who had just shared something beautiful.
We live in a world where sexual assault can be dismissed with jokes or excuses. Rape and sexual assault are common in South Africa. Every day we read about rape or hear about it through the media. We have developed a “rape culture” in which social norms allow us to dismiss, joke about or condone rape. Rape has been normalised to such an extent that victims - which now include little babies - are blamed when the crime has been committed against them.
The normalisation of rape makes it harder and harder for victims to speak out, as they learn they won’t be taken seriously or are dismissed when they do.
Recently, former Sunday Times columnist David Bullard bullied rape victim Michelle Solomon on Twitter. Bullard tweeted to Michelle:
@mishsolomon Do you have anything else in your life to cling to other than your alleged rape? If you were raped then lay a charge.— David(Mdavo)Bullard (@lunchout2) February 3, 2014
@mishsolomon Face facts Mish. You got horribly drunk, had a bonk, regretted it in the morning and called it rape to protect your reputation.— David(Mdavo)Bullard (@lunchout2) February 4, 2014
How does someone in my situation lay a charge when it’s my word against his and there are no social media posts to prove it?
According to Africa Check, “…a study by Gender Links and the Medical Research Council found that in South Africa’s Gauteng Province only one in 13 women reported non-partner rape and overall only one in 25 rapes have been reported to the police”.
This suggests that men have (or believe they have) a “right” to women’s bodies, hence eroding the concept of consent. This leads to the misconception about women “asking for it” or wanting it even if they say NO! Who’s to blame for the six-week-old baby fighting for her life after being raped? Or the daughter who has children by her father?
(Photo cred: AFP)
The reasons rape victims don’t report their assault
Victims don’t always report their assaults for a number of reasons, even if they’re told it is their responsibility to report their rape for the sake of future victims. For a start you lose your right to anonymity and confidentiality because the accused has the right to know the identity of the accuser.
In South Africa, if the accused is held in high regard by society, he is a “good” man incapable of committing rape or assault.
You may find yourself very publicly slut-shammed, and blamed, also publicly, for not seeing it coming, which usually leads to public speculation about whether a victim’s behaviour or style of dress was the reason for their assault.
There are instances where the victim’s own family will slut-shame and blame them, if they family is financially dependent on the accused, or he is someone they held in high regard.
Victims have been told that since they did not fight back, it can’t be rape, because consent must be actively withdrawn. Silence and non-responsiveness is not always understood as a withdrawal of consent by the courts.
If a survivor reports being raped years after the assault, they may be told the rape is historic and since there’s no physical evidence they will have to prove they withdrew consent, making it their word against violators.
Of all of the reasons, though, the one that adds insult to injury is the low conviction rate.
Residents protest outside a court in Bredasdorp where two men accused of raping a teenage girl appeared in mid-February. (Reuters)
A ‘no’ is just a ‘yes’ that needs convincing
According to Liberate Yourself: “Our Society teaches men that sex is their right and that women are fickle and often mean yes when they say no. Our society teaches men that they should pursue women and sex even when their would-be bedroom partner is unwilling, because ‘a no is just a yes that needs convincing’.”
We have become a society that is broken and sees women and children as objects with no value. As a country we are at a point where the threat of - and casual attitude towards - rape has become an acceptable part of public discourse. Sexual assault can be dismissed with jokes or excuses. It has spread throughout every area of our lives, from the street to the work place (two writers from the South African version of lad mag FHM sparked outrage on Twitter for posting jokes on Facebook about correctional rape, drug rape and rape survivors), the classroom (dramatic art pupils were asked to describe how they would get an actor to maximise the horror of rape of a baby, using a broomstick and a loaf of bread as props), to our homes and families (The rape and murder of 4-year-old Jasmine Pretorius by her 23-year-old uncle).
How did we fall this low, and why do we as a society allow this state of affairs to continue?
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