Rape is rape no matter how you react

Zulaikha Patel and other young activists stage a silent protest against gender-based violence outside the Pretoria Magistrates Court yesterday. Jacques Naude African News Agency (ANA)

This past weekend we woke up to the news of rape allegation against the acting spokesperson of the governing party. I immediately sent a message via watsup to a close female friend of mine and subsequently we ended up having a disagreement over the matter and resolved to agreeing to disagree on the issue. My dear friend could not comprehend how one can claim to be victim and still have the energy to negotiate settlements with her so called perpetrator and even worse why would she wait for a few months before the elections to come forward with her claims. 

My opinion remained resolute and unchanged rape is rape. How one chooses to deal with the trauma is personal and there is no textbook that can assist anyone with trauma. Having been born in Tsomo in Transkei just a few years before the dawn of democracy and spending the formative years of my life there, settlements in rape cases are nothing strange or new . A lot of the times when a girl got raped the family of the rapist would send a sheep or cow after negotiations between the two families and a settlement had been reached. 

The sheep or cow was peace offering and if the victim’s family accepted it life was expected to go on as if nothing had happened. It is easy for a city dweller to state the obvious that we live in a democracy governed by a constitution and such settlement negotiations are outdated therefore insinuating that the victim is disingenuous but truth is that not everyone has faith in our justice system especially when one is going against prominent members of society. The conversation with my friend took me back to time last year during the period of the Me Too campaign where many of our sisters locally and abroad came forward with allegation of sexual harassment or rape. 

Most of these unfortunate incidents had happened a long time ago and the ladies only had the courage to come forward during the campaign. During a family dinner a male relative expressed his confusion about the Me Too campaign. For the life of him he just could not comprehend why it was suddenly “fashionable” for women to claim to have been sexually violated when police station have always been there to report such cases. According to his understanding rape is a unlawful act and if this unlawful act is committed against you; you simply report it the police and even though he did not say this but his tone implied that after you report it to the police life should goes on. 

I sat there silently as my heart broke simply because I knew you cannot change the views of a 70 year old men and since it is estimated that only 1 in 4 rapes are reported in South Africa any of the 4 females he was sitting with at the dinner table could have been a rape victims who had never had the courage to speak out. What concerned me about this kind of mentality is how the focus is always on the victim and never on the perpetrator. He could have asked why so many men are rapist ; why so many men feel entitled to women’s bodies but instead he chose to focus on the victims . 

The response from the secretary general of the ruling party to the lady who wrote him a letter reporting the acting spokesperson of rape was not only dismissive but it lacked empathy. It underlined the fundamental challenge we face as a society. For as long as patriarchy reins supreme and males dominate positions of power rape victims will never get the attention they deserve. To top it off public debates on local radio station about this matter did not help either as they only proved that our country is still very much biased against women and all these public debates do is open a platform for men to express their sexist and prejudice views against women. 

It is one thing to respect the rule of the law that one is innocent until proven guilty but to go as far as suggesting how one should deal with their trauma is not only downright cruel but it makes it extremely difficult for other victims to come forward when they know they will be subjected to further humiliation. It is clear that most men even those who are not rapist themselves struggle to empathise with rape victims because they do not understand the impact of rape psychologically and the trauma it causes. 

Trauma is a state of shock; denial; disbelief; confusion; fear; guilt ; shame and self. So as a society we cannot expect a traumatised mind to reason normally because it cannot. We re quick to say that a man is innocent until proven guilty it is only fair to say rape victims deserve to be heard without fear or favour until proven otherwise. As we make our judgements on public platforms such as social media what every men should remember is that they all have mothers ; most have daughters and sisters. 

We can no longer continue living in a country where the negative attention is given more to victims and the rapists are left to roam around freely. Whenever rape allegations come forward there are always hurtful questions like why did she put herself in that position; why was dressed like that; why did she go alone with him and the most common question why is she only speaking out now. But what society should get is rape is rape regardless of who raped; why they raped; where they raped; when they raped and how they raped. If the sexual intercourse was not consensual it is rape and rapists should be judged not the victims. 

I do not have a psychology degree and I have never been raped so I cannot claim to be an expect but I am a woman who lives in country where it is estimated that 40% of the women will be raped in their lifetime. I know the trauma of even being scared of small things like taking an Uber because a rapist could be anyone even a cab driver. I know what it feels to be scared to even jog in your neighbourhood alone because a group of men in car could stop and kidnap you. I know the anxiety that comes with being touched inappropriately by someone in a position of power or the disappointment and shame that comes with someone you trust making inappropriate sexual remarks to you. 

Most importantly as a mother of a two year old daughter I know what it feels like to live in constant fear because you do not know who to trust with your daughter. Since the lady who claims to have been raped by the acting spokes person of the governing party has not laid any charges against him; there will never be a rape trial and we will never know the truth. There are two possible outcomes; a woman who has been cruelly violated and humiliated might never get her justice or a innocent man; father and husband might always have this cloud of being a possible rapist hanging over him. 

Kodwa has come forward and said that he is seeking legal advise to clear his name. One would hope he will do this sooner rather then later because whether he is a rapist or not fact remains there are women out there who have been really raped by other prominent members of society and as they sit there watching society demonising this one woman all they feel is more shame and less courage to come forward with their own story. The only plea with society is to shift its focus from victims and for us to do some deep introspection on why we are a nation that continues to produce rapists. 

Why do we raise men who have a sense of entitlement to women. Rape is an extremely traumatic and painful experience that strips women of their humanity and sense of worth. If we are serious and sincere about building a nation which is inclusive to both genders then we can no longer strip women of their dignity by allowing atrocious crimes such as rape to continue and still expect women to have the confidence and power to contribute positively towards nation building.

Yolanda Mhlungu is a Communications Science student. She runs her own corporate branding company which  focuses on corporate branding.