The dangers of rape myths...

2013-08-07 13:48

I have never been a rape victim nor will I pretend to understand what it means to be. But in this country it seems that people who have never experienced this terrible violent atrocity are the first ones to want to decipher what constitutes a legitimate or illigetimate rape.

I am sure it is easy for anyone who has not been raped to sympathise with those who have gone throught such an injustice. You are outraged at how this terrible crime continues to happen at your own backyard but little is done about it. You condemn the inhumane perpetrators that violate mostly women and children on a daily basis.

Accuser vs accused?

As much as we as South Africans condemn rape ,some to an extent if not more perpetuate the injustice and myths that surround rape. The latest example is the scandal that involves tough on corruption and all for workers rights union boss Zwelinzima Vavi. I am not saying what he says is true nor am I convicting him of sexual assault but I do believe that because he is a powerful politically connected man he used that together with his loyal social media followers to portray the accuser as nothing more than a vengeful lying employee.

If his own version of the story is to be believed, Vavi says they had a brief sexual encounter in her office while standing which contradict's her version of accounts that he rape her in the same office. I am not here to argue that Vavi is guilty of rape nor am I here to suggest that his accuser is not lying. But the reaction that I witnessed directed at her is nothing short of a continuous culture that South Africans seem to display towards rape survivors.

Why did she wait six months to come forward? Why did she not report it to the police?  Why did she try to extort money from him? Why did she flirt with him via text and phone calls if he raped her?  These are sort of questions that the woman who accuses a  man of rape especially powerful one is bombarded with.

This happened with Roman Polanksy. IMF's Dominique Strauss Kahn.  It happened with Jacob Zuma(eventually she was driven out of SA) and recently it happened with Cosatu's media darling Zwelindzima Vavi. The questions are always attacking the credibility of the accuser but never of the accused whom are powerful men who come with public relations machines behind them. What's even more suspect in this scenario is that both of the people involved here were Cosatu employees but only one was fierceley defended by the organisation through public statements and releasing of her picture and name to the media.

The Myths...

What followed is more sickening. I received Whatsapp messages captioned with “Vavi would have been a fool not to hit that.” Facebook posts labelled “Nantsi le-yellow bone ka Vavi”and tweeps frantically filling her Twitter timeline with intimidating and threatening messages. If this country is serious about fighting rape, how does it explain the vilifying of a woman who cried rape when the matter has not even reached the courts?

Kathleen Day founder of SA's oldest rape counselling organisation (but needs funding to keep it's doors open) wrote an op ed the other day about how difficult it is for rape victims to come forward and point out their rapists especially if they are powerful well known men in society. It's hard because of the shame some feel, the powerlessness and the fear of being rejected and not believed by those close to them.

What struck me as odd is that society expects rape victims questions the victims behaviour before and after such a traumatic and unimaginable pain has happened to them. People ask if whether she was drinking at a club? Whether she was wearing a mini skirt? Whether she was walking alone alone at night? Or why was she wearing such a revealing outfit. How does all of that have to do with the fact that men feel entitled to women's bodies and they are the problem here not a women's attire. If that is the case how do you explain the rape of a 4 month year old baby that rocked Ceres a few days ago. Or the spate of rapes of grandmothers that we have seen being reported in the news?

Where are the questions that look at the way perpetrators behave? They should be tightly scrutinised instead of directing it to the victim!

Rape is rife in this country because some rationalise it and don't place the necessary responsibilty on the rapist. It's always whether she courted it or is lying rather than trying to establish why a man would do such a thing. Women have suffered enough when it comes to sexism, misogyny and patriarchy in their homes, workplace and in communities.  And their suffering continues in the present because our attitudes towards this scourge refuses to change.

Some joke about it. Some think patriarchy is a right. Some place the blame on the victim and survivor. Some question her credibility because he is in a powerful position and she is a maid. Some think it's a women's issue. These notions contribute to the disgusting rape culture that SA seems to willingly or unwillingly perpetuate rather than teaching boys from a young age that girls are their equals not their property.

SA's culture to address the scourge of rape and stop it needs to change in our communities before we can expect any real change in convictions, preventative measures and rehabilitation of survivors. Rape is too prevalant in this country and these kind of myths only fuel the sentiment that the victim is as much to blame as her attacker.


You can catch me on twitter @BongaDlulane.


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