COLUMN | Are we becoming numb to sexual assault and harassment reports?

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Victims of sexual offences often suffer in silence.
Victims of sexual offences often suffer in silence.
Tinnakorn Jorruang/EyeEm/Getty Images

I want to be angry. I want to scream and punch someone in the face. But I am numb and struggling to even make sense of it all.

I can't quite put how I feel into words. I hate the emotional defeat I am feeling.  Essentially, it feels like a loss for women. It is.

I can't help but think about how victims of rape and sexual harassment must be feeling if I am this sad just by thinking about the reality that befalls our society.

The fourth quarter 2020/2021 crime statistics were released by Police Minister Bheki Cele recently, and I am gutted!

I was reminded of a report I once read on the internet dubbed, "Interpol has named South Africa 'Rape Capital of the World'." 

To say these figures are heart-breaking is an understatement.

Countrywide, from January to March 2021, 9 518 rapes were reported. That's almost 10 000 rapes, in three months. 

Shockingly, a sample of 6 893 of the rape incidents revealed that 4 130 happened at the home of the victim or the home of the alleged rapist.

Rape makes up a huge portion of sexual offences reported. Other related cases being sexual assault, attempted sexual offences, and contact sexual offences.

Read more| What you need to know about reporting a rape case and healing from the trauma

These are not just numbers  these are lives. Lives that are being violated and ruined.

As a journalist, stories of rape are an everyday tale to me. On some days I can keep the tears in, on others I cry through interviews when I hear some of the horrid stories.

I don't know how many times I've heard, “I don’t want to live anymore”, “I tried killing myself” or “I am so depressed”, when a victim of sexual assault has to live with memories of this criminal violation every single day.

This is just a glimpse of how scarring this is. Some victims turn to alcohol and drug abuse, suffer from mental illness and have long-term health issues.

It is frightening. I live in fear of it happening to me or those around me. Every woman does. 

It can happen to anyone, at any time. I know this because these are everyday stories that sound normal but they are not. 

How did we get here? How as a society did we become so nonchalant about the sexual violation of others? 

Read more|‘We fail to protect children’ – statutory rape explained

Last week, the well-known Bishop Israel Makamu made headlines when a voice recording of him allegedly asking for a sexual favour from a then 17-year-old girl who attended and worked at his church came out.

Some of the comments on this perhaps shed light on how we got here. The immediate invalidation of this kind of violation is unbelievable. The dismissal of someone's pain as an act is concerning. 

The girl, who has now opened a sexual assault case against the church leader, explained after the recording went viral that she recorded a call in 2018 after previous sexual advances from the church leader. Despite her no’s, this persisted, she says.

Seeing the reaction from social media was quite concerning. Many were not shy to play defense attorney, putting her on blast. Some Christians and non-Christians alike went as far as criticising her for recording the call. They blamed her for wanting to expose what had happened. They cheered the church leader on and swore their allegiance to the man of God.

But this is her trauma and surely she can choose when and how she deals with it, even if it takes a number of years? Does she deserve to be vilified for a lived experience? No. 

A few days later, the bishop was officiating at the wedding of an actor and his wife. He was on social media posting about his funeral parlour business and the services rendered. It seemed as though it was business as usual.

To top it all off, he had a church service where he asked for forgiveness from his wife. He also spoke about attacks from the devil and God fighting for you when your enemies laugh at you and try to pull you down.

It was a bingeworthy sermon. I watched all of it, especially as the wife went up on stage to hug her husband and cry with him during this "tough" time after he, in front of everyone there and those watching on Youtube, asked to be forgiven. He thanked those who supported him during the attacks after the recording went viral.

Bishop Makamu even knelt down to hug one of the respected men in ministry, Dr SD Gumbi who was in attendance. Like a wounded disciple seeking counsel and comfort from his spiritual father. 

But then I asked myself, what exactly was this wounded disciple apologising for? 

Read more| My story | ‘I was powerless, I lost myself and I felt like I was dying’

Not once in his sermon, unless I missed it, did he say, "I am sorry for what I did to the 17-year-old who was devoted to my ministry". Instead, I heard Bishop Makamu blame the devil, gaslight those that were not supporting him while he preached that no one is perfect.

He is right, no one is perfect but imperfections don't excuse our actions. 

The irony of it all is that Bishop Makamu hosts ReaTsotella on Moja Love Channel 157, where he intervenes when there are disputes within families and in communities. He holds people accountable.

Are we asking for too much if we expect him to hold himself to the same standard? Even if it is just to explain his side of the story and tell South Africans what happened and what he is sorry for. 

I am not saying he is guilty. But I am saying we live in a country that blames victims and urges them to keep quiet, while perpetrators are held up high.

As a man who has such a huge following, he could use his pulpit for good in this instance. He could help spread the message that victims need our support and it's not our place to say when and how they should deal with their trauma. 

We have a sexual offences crisis, and so much of it happens with people we know. It could be a neighbour, teacher, or a family member violating someone. All too often, these don't make the headlines and they end up as a statistic. 

It's exhausting, in fact. What have we learnt from this incident and what have we solved as society? Nothing. If anything, those who have been violated might be silenced even more now because of the fear of being victimised even further.

It seems this is just another trending topic with no consequences. We just move on. And yet every year shows us we still have a problem in South Africa with sexual offences. Numbers don't lie.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
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