Men can no longer be silent

2012-04-21 15:22

What kind of society have we become where young men think it’s acceptable to rape a disabled girl and film themselves doing it?

What does it say about their sense of impunity, their disregard for women in general and the victim in particular? Did they imagine they’d never be caught, or did they simply not care?

Was the desire to bond with each other, to prove their manhood to each other, more compelling than considering the consequences for their victim and, ultimately, for themselves?

What made these young men, some still legally children, so desensitised that they could take turns raping a young girl who continued to plead for mercy?

What have we, as a society, done to raise men and boys who have this sense of entitlement to women’s bodies? Does their behaviour reflect a belief that as men they can commit acts of contempt for women and not only get away with it, but imagine that they might be celebrated for it?

Is it because the role models they had are those men who are rapists, murderers, car hijackers and jackrollers? Representative studies conducted by the Medical Research Council in 2008 in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape indicate that one in 10 men have been involved in a gang rape and that fully a quarter of South African men acknowledge having committed an act of rape.

Other studies also indicate that gang rapes are far more common in South Africa than in other countries and that they are overwhelmingly carried out by young men.

In fact, rape in South Africa has many of the same features as rape in situations of war
and conflict. Difficult as it is for many men to admit it, many women experience South Africa as a war zone in which we men are perceived as threats or potential threats to their safety and dignity.

In moments like this, we hear men distance themselves from this particular group of perpetrators.
We applaud them for conveying their horror, but we think more is needed.

More is needed of all men – the bystanders who witnessed, viewed or knew about this particular rape and did nothing; the teachers and school friends who must have heard rumours, but still kept quiet; the police whose inaction in other similar cases creates a climate of impunity; the political leaders whose double standards and inconsistencies between rhetoric and reality about gender equality undermine gender transformation; the men who participate in, or remain silent in the face of the regular ogling, comments and objectification of women that is so pervasive in South Africa.

It is our collective silence as men that has to change.

We know from our own research and work with men from all walks of life in communities all over the country that most men say they are opposed to rape and other forms of violence against women.

We have to raise the bar, though, and make it clear that as men we will not collude with, condone or commit such acts.

We have to send a clear and unambiguous message that we will challenge both the egregious incidents of rape and insidious acts of complicity that contribute to the pervasive and brutal sexual violence we know takes place all the time but seldom gets the attention that this case has received.

» Botha is media liaison spokesperson for Sonke Gender Justice

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