Faatimah Hendricks

'In a perfect world no one would rape'

2016-06-17 07:44

Faatimah Hendricks

Rape is one of the most awful things that could happen to a human being. It's a violent attack that robs people of their dignity. Nobody ever asks to be raped. Nothing you could ever do is an invitation for an attack on your body. When a woman (or man) says no to sex that is what it means – no.

It is common knowledge that South Africa has one of the highest rates of rape in the world. Then again, crime in general is quite high in South Africa. Rape and other crimes are also fairly high in other countries such as the United States and England, as well as in South American countries. Knowing this, why is it that women place themselves in vulnerable positions, such as getting blackout drunk around strangers? No one is allowed to ask this question. If they do they're accused of promoting “rape culture” or of “victim blaming”.

Brock Turner made international headlines when he was sentenced to only six months in prison for sexually assaulting an unconscious, intoxicated woman. The sentence was far too light for sexual assault. Shortly thereafter the internet was flooded with quotes about drinking not being a crime but rape was, and that the victims should stop being blamed. Sure drinking isn't a crime, but in a country with a high crime rate would you advocate that your family members drink until they're unconscious in the company of strangers?

Living in a country with such a high crime rate I am always alert. I do not leave my valuables unattended when I go out. I am always on the lookout for anyone behaving suspiciously. I cling tightly to my bag and I don't walk around at night or stay out until late. I'm certain there are many others that do the same thing. Life shouldn't have to be this way. We should be able to live freely without worrying about being attacked. But sadly, it just doesn't work that way. The world is filled with sick, evil people and so we have to try as far as possible to prevent anything bad from happening to us. If you know that there are housebreakings in your neighbourhood, will you sleep with your front door wide open?

It is disturbing that feminism today encourages women to behave irresponsibly, yet expect to be perfectly safe from crime. This includes expecting criminals and rapists to respect their bodies and belongings. In theory, putting yourself in a vulnerable position is not an invitation to be abused. In reality it's a very different story. The view that your vulnerability should be respected has made it easier to absolve women of personal responsibility for their own safety. Women simply cannot get drunk to the point of passing out and not expect anything bad to happen to them. Considering the high level of crime, is it wise to gamble on the fact that maybe there isn't a predator lurking in the shadows ready to take advantage of a woman when she's practically incapacitated?

At the start of the year, an American activist for rape and sexual assault against women, Amber Amour, said she was raped at a hostel in Cape Town. She got into a shower with a man who obviously thought he could take advantage of her. As a rape activist and educator, she should have known better than to get naked and get into a shower with a strange man. But as a feminist she believes women have the right to behave provocatively, entice men and get sexual attention, yet expect men to respect their bodies, especially when they've placed themselves in vulnerable positions.

In a perfect world this could happen. No one would rape. No one would be hurt by crime. People would be able to wander around practically naked and not receive the wrong kind of sexual attention. Getting into a shower naked with a stranger would not lead to anyone being victimised. But in our world, the real world, asking criminals to respect others' bodies and property is asking too much.

Questioning rape

When a woman says she is raped the accused is always treated as guilty until proven innocent. It's rare he'd be proven innocent even if he is – the woman would have to admit that she lied or the police would have to be aware of inconsistencies in her story. People were outraged by some of the questions Brock Turner's victim was asked during her trial. She was questioned about her drinking, partying and promiscuity. She and many others found this offensive. They felt that these aspects of her life were irrelevant.

There are many times these questions are irrelevant, but it's also easy to falsely accuse men of rape.  It is a lawyer's job to question the accuser, including their credibility. Being able to face and question your accuser is how justice works. If we simply believed every accusation, there'd be no need for trials and far more innocent people will go to jail. Sexual crime is the easiest and most effective way of discrediting someone and it is sometimes used as a political tool to silence detractors or get rid of opposition. Sometimes rape can be very hard to prove, which is why investigations need to be thorough and sometimes harsh questions need to be asked. It is also why we should presume someone is innocent until proven guilty.

But, it doesn't always go so smoothly. American footballer Brian Banks was falsely accused of rape and served six years in jail, until his accuser admitted to fabricating the story. Such false accusations have led men to suicide because they know they will never be found innocent. A court case is based on evidence only until it's about rape, at which point it becomes a “he said she said” ordeal and the woman tends to get the benefit of the doubt. A man must usually prove that he not only had no motivation to do the crime, but also that he had no means to do so.

In other words, he has to meet the highest standards of evidence to prove his innocence while society and the media have already presumed him to be a rapist. In Brazil a woman made a false claim of rape and provided a fake identikit to police. A man who happened to match the identikit was severely assaulted by residents and was admitted to hospital with a skull fracture. Let's also not forget instances where a woman has cried rape after being caught cheating, for regretting a poor decision, or to attempt to cover up a pregnancy.

Feminists argue that the rate of false accusations is so low that it does not matter. However, this is problematic because it means we are happier to risk sending an innocent man to jail than to let a guilty one walk free. It also relies on the position that women never lie. A woman who falsely accuses a man of rape suffers far fewer consequences - and even benefits from the attention, sympathy and support she receives - than a man who has been falsely accused. It could damage his reputation, relationships and career. In a number of cases, those women caught lying about the crime faced little to no jail time.

This is not to say rapes do not happen. Of course they do. Crime happens all the time. This is why we need to be honest about how we're approaching crime and personal safety. Sending women the message that being placed in a vulnerable position is okay just makes it easier for criminals to act. It makes no sense to hand ourselves to rapists on a silver platter. And while we're being honest, perhaps we should consider some form of restorative justice for those who have been falsely accused. The damage to their reputations, careers and relationships cannot be fixed overnight. False rape accusations are also a slap in the face to actual rape victims and it couldn't hurt to have a little more justice for both men and women.

- Faatimah Hendricks is an award-winning journalist and freelance writer. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook and at selfwriteous.co.za

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