Rape: worse than you think

Eusebius McKaiser

One of the least surprising non-responses to my first book was readers', reviewers' and interviewers' conspicuous silence about an essay in which I talk about a cousin who raped me when I was a little boy. We just do not know how to talk about rape. And so we choose silence. We turn a blind eye like the police who infamously "can't interfere with domestic affairs".

Now and then we give an activist a mike for a few seconds just to cover our bases in the media so that we are not accused of indifference. And then we quickly move on to less uncomfortable conversation. Even the mutilated body of a girl, Anene Booysen, gang raped and killed in the southern Cape, hardly got more attention than what some B-grade celebs wear at a faux fashion event in Cape Town.

How gratuitous and gross must the violence be before we are going to act as a society? Is it not enough that rape is intrinsically gratuitous? What will it take for us to stop being bystanders as violence destroys lives in our homes and in our communities?

First, we need to be frank about the extent of the rape epidemic. One of the most unfortunate consequences of the silence around rape is that tens of thousands of victims do not even know they are victims.

This is because we only talk about the "worst" cases, if we talk about rape at all. And it is right that we get angry about gangrape, and the murder of our girls and women. We now need to open the space for other kinds of violation to also be acknowledged.

We have to do so so that countless victims stop thinking to themselves, "I was not gang raped, so my violation was not as bad." Or, "I did not resist. I did not scream. Am I really a victim then?" A victim might even have experienced pleasurable sensations during a violation, further complicating the self-loathing, and the personal conviction that you asked for it or even consented. Some victims even battle with whether to trust their memory or not, such is the psychological consequence of never voicing an experience.

In my own case, for example, I never screamed. I cried quietly. And I only recognised the violation as rape once I became an adult. Even then - and still now as I write this column - I feel it is over the top to claim I was raped. Why? Because rape victims are meant to be helpless women ruthlessly attacked by strangers on the way home after an evening at a tavern. A rape victim is not a boy whose familiar, favourite cousin who does so much for him "plays" with him.

We have to start telling the stories of rape that record the full truth about the evil: the volume and nature of the epidemic is worse than many of us know and acknowledge.

The category of coercive sex is huge. And violent gang rape is only the most talked about sub-set of coercive sex. We need to lift the lid on the entire range of violations. And we need to create the space for all victims to be humanised and acknowledged. But this cannot happen if we remain silent.

Our silence is culpable. Do not ask what society is doing about it. Do not ask what government is doing about it. Ask yourself, "What am I doing about evil in my midst?"

- McKaiser’s book A Bantu in my Bathroom is now available from all leading bookstores. Ebooks can be bought from Amazon.com and epub and pdf versions can be bought on-line from Exclusives Books and Kalahari.com

- Eusebius McKaiser is an associate at the Wits Centre for Ethics. Follow @eusebius on Twitter.

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