Horror rape must force us to face hard truths

2012-04-21 09:10

 A 17-year-old girl from Dobsonville in Soweto became the symbol of South Africa’s rape shame this week.

The girl, described in reports as having the mental capacity of a five-year-old, was filmed being raped by a group of boys and young men in a Dobsonville field. When they were finished, they offered her R2 in exchange for her silence.

What happened to this girl is not unusual.

South Africa’s rape statistics are an annual horror story – the stark numbers on police slide shows, a silent testament to the tens of thousands of women who are able to report their rapes each year. Tens of thousands more are not able to report them – through fear, or because they do not know how.

Having been violated once, they cannot face police officers, prosecutors, their rapist and risk more violation.

The Dobsonville teenager may never have reported this rape.

A resident caught her daughter watching the video of the gang rape, laughing as she did.

The horrified woman confiscated her daughter’s cellphone and took it to reporters at Daily Sun.

It was their initial report, and the fact that the police were finally notified, that catapulted this teen’s horrific ordeal into the public eye.

Now that we are looking, now that our eyes are firmly focused on this tragedy, it is important that South Africans refuse to look away.

We must continue to gaze, unflinchingly, at the mirror this incident holds up to our society: a girl in need of special care, a mother who seems unable to give her daughter the support she needs, and neighbours who claim they knew the girl had been abused before, but who did nothing.

A group of boys, City Press has been told, saw the vulnerable teenager as an easy way to lose their virginity. They saw her sexuality as a challenge, or perhaps a threat.

We live in a society that has made it acceptable, and perhaps even desirable, for men to assert their masculinity in the most brutal way imaginable. We are not only failing the country’s women and girls, but its men and boys.

A range of factors – absent fathers, a dearth of strong leadership on gender issues, political and religious leaders too slow to condemn violence against women – have led us here.

It is possible, though, to turn the tide. It will require bravery and hard work, and difficult conversations. It will mean South Africa’s men will have to stop making excuses for each other and start calling each other out on bad language, bad behaviour and bad attitudes towards women.

We owe the Dobsonville teen nicknamed “Jackpot” that much.

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