Rhodes University student Khensani Maseko's suicide has exposed a worrying tendency to victim blame

Khensani Maseko
Khensani Maseko

News24 reports that it is suspected that Khensani Maseko committed suicide after struggling with depression brought on by an alleged rape in May. Her Instagram page has since been removed, but her last Instagram post was captioned "No one deserves to be raped". Chilling.

As loved ones mourn the passing of the third year Bachelor of Arts student who was enrolled at Rhodes University, messages from various people including celebrities have been posted, expressing outrage and sorrow that a young woman's life had to end so tragically.

Although most people on social media have expressed a general sadness and heartbreak over what happened to Khensani, some of the comments and remarks have been unsavory and showed a lack of empathy as highlighted in this Facebook post below. 

Some sentiment includes that her decision to end her a life was an act of cowardice.

Which highlights one of the biggest problems rape survivors face - victim-blaming. By definition, victim-blaming is "holding the belief or expressing one's opinion that the person who is alleging they were sexually harassed, or victimised in an intimate relationship, was in some way responsible," according to a PDF issued by Nelson Mandela University.

According to Shiralee McDonald, a counselling coordinator at Rape Crisis, victim-blaming stems from the typical myths of who gets raped and why they get raped. People still have a certain idea of what a rape survivor and perpetrator looks and acts like. 

For example people may ask, "Why was she there? Why was she wearing that outfit? Or they were naked, what is she going on about? Ugh, isn't he your boyfriend man? Why would you go to his flat? Surely you must have known that this was going to happen?"

These misconceptions around rape make the survivors accountable for not taking action to prevent the rape when in actual reality the blame lies squarely at rapists' feet.

READ MORE: Why young SA women are choosing abstinence and celibacy (TRIGGER WARNING: rape)

Shiralee explains that these myths exist because of how people have been brought up. According to an article by The Guardian, people may be psychologically inclined to victim-blame. This is based on the "just-world bias" which explains that our "brains crave predictability, and as such we tend to blame victims of unfairness rather than reject the comforting worldview suggesting that good will be rewarded and evil punished," explains the article. Furthermore, people tend to believe that good things happen to good people and that "if something bad has happened to you, you must have done something bad to deserve that bad thing".

Shiralee also explains that victim-blaming stops people from reaching out and seeking help. And there's the psychological impact people suffer from when they are blamed for being raped. They can struggle with continuing with school or even function at work. It impacts how people see the world and themselves in relation to the world. 

READ MORE: New Zealand to give domestic violence survivors paid leave – could this work in SA?

Although the fight against victim-blaming may seem futile, Shiralee explains that we can start by challenging perceptions people hold. "Challenge those jokes about rape and challenge those jokes about gender."

We need change the narrative and put the blame on the perpetrator because the perpetrator committed the rape. Shiralee adds that we should support people that have been victims of rape because the trauma from rape is severe and in some cases can lead to suicide. 

If you feel like you have no one to speak to call the 24hr Rape Crisis helpline at 021 447 9762. 

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