Faatimah Hendricks

The rape culture no one talks about

2016-04-29 08:22

Faatimah Hendricks

Not much gets South Africans feeling as uncomfortable as when someone mentions the country's high rape statistics. News articles emerge online almost daily about women being raped, whether it's about crimes that have been committed, general information or awareness. This includes a piece which appeared recently about the failings of the justice system when women are victims of rape. Unfortunately, the sad truth is that there is never any justice for victims of such vicious and violent crimes. But, it doesn't help that we only ever see the story rehashed the same way: men are the perpetrators and women are the victims. It's as though men cannot be victims of rape.

Rape culture is the belief that rape is largely tolerated and that rapists get away with their crime because it is implicitly accepted by society. The fact that the judicial system is failing women is not an indication that rape is okay. How often is justice served to murderers or to other criminals in general? This doesn't mean that we accept and encourage people to commit murder or to be criminals. The place where a rape culture exists is in South Africa is in prison. It is expected and accepted in prisons. This is where a rape culture thrives and it involves men as both perpetrators and victims.

Contrary to what some activists want us to believe, it is when men are the victims that sexual abuse is taken lightly. No one ever makes fun of a woman that was raped. No one takes it lightly or jokes about it. When we hear stories of men being raped by women the comments on social media and on the actual news articles are despicable. The victims' experiences are usually trivialised and they're often told to "man up". Many people laugh it off and others doubt whether he was actually raped. If this reaction were directed at women there would be a social outcry, protests and awareness campaigns.

Remember the story that emerged in October last year about the man who was raped by three women in Mpumalanga? I remember reading the comments on social media which would have caused an uproar had it been a female victim. These include people suggesting that he actually wanted it, enjoyed it and that men could not be raped.

It is true that we don't hear about many instances of men being raped – not as much as we hear about women being raped. This by no means suggests that it doesn't happen as often. But can you blame the men for wanting to keep quiet about it? They have already been emasculated and defeated. Talking about it would highlight a vulnerability many men would be hard pressed to admit really exists. They've been told that "cowboys don't cry" and to " "take it like a man" for years only to grow up to be the villains when sex is involved.

South African Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse (Samsosa) was formed a few years ago to provide support for men who are victims of sexual abuse and rape. The organisation said the rape and sexual abuse of boys and men has been ignored to the point that it has created the impression that it does not exist. On its website Samsosa said: "Many services currently available are solely focused on meeting the needs of female victims who have been abused and sexually assaulted, marginalising men." This leaves male victims with no place to go to for support. They feel as though they have no choice but to suffer in silence. According to Samsosa there are no statistics available on male victims in South Africa. The organisation claims this is mainly because the existence of male victims is not acknowledged.

Without accurate information on the actual number of male victims, we may never know the true extent of the problem. To claim South Africans live in a rape culture means we also have to call it a murder culture, robbery culture and hijack culture. The first step to finding a solution is to get accurate statistics on the number of male rape victims. The next is to take an holistic approach to raising awareness on rape, which does not only portray women as victims whose bodies need to be respected. It goes both ways.

- Faatimah Hendricks is an award-winning journalist and freelance writer. You can find her on Twitter as @GarlicNaan or at selfwriteous.co.za.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.



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