Rape is a serious crime

Rape is a serious crime

Date: January 1, 1970
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It is high time we remove our heads from the sand. The rape of women is a big deal! We need to stop the habit of shrugging our collective shoulders to mean, ?Oh shame it happens, but life goes on?.

It is high time we remove our heads from the sand. The rape of women is a big deal!  We need to stop the habit of shrugging our collective shoulders to mean, “Oh shame it happens,  but life goes on”.

Rape is a violation of  women’s and girl’s basic human rights to choice, liberty and security of person. It is a cruel and degrading act. Physical injury and disfigurement, emotional trauma, pregnancy and sexually-transmitted infections, including HIV, are some of its consequences that remain with the survivor for a very long time. Thousands of women and girls also have become victims of rape.

According to research by South Africa’s Medical Research Council (MRC),  about 54,000 rape cases are reported to the police every year. This, however, is merely the tip of the ice-berg, since numerous cases are never reported.

The explanation for these dismal statistics lies in the schizophrenic reaction that  society displays towards the rape of women. While we do not deny that a violation has occurred, at the same time we try to justify and explain it away.

When a woman is raped, we analyse her dress, her social habits, whether she was in the wrong place at the wrong time, or, whether she went willingly with the attacker. Also her sexual history – ”was she a virgin?”- becomes an open book.

Compare for a minute our reaction to a car hijacking or house break-in. We do not ask why a man when he is robbed of his car, drove a beautiful and tempting car. Nor do we query whether residents had locked their front door when a break-in occurs. We immediately recognise that a crime has been committed, which should be reported and rectified according to the law.

We live in a sardonic situation where some of the best laws in the world seemingly can do nothing for women. According to the MRC, a man accused of rape has 1 in 13 chances of conviction. This raises the question whether the new Sexual Offences Bill, which is regarded as a great improvement to the current legislation, will make a difference.

We are all complicit in one way or another in the lack of justice meted out to those accused of rape. We sometimes subtly transfer the blame and shame from the perpetrator  to the survivour.  We wrongly think that the onus is on women to keep themselves away from situations that may lead to them being raped.

Communities should not be allowed to close ranks when one of their daughters has been violated. Marrying a violated girl or young woman off, and allowing the accuse to pay compensation or lobolo to the father, should never replace public acknowledgement of a crime, incarceration of the offender and hopefully at a later stage, rehabilitation.

Police, health officials and others within the system who stall the process of justice should be fined or sentenced for their role in discouraging the survivors from pursuing justice.

The South Africa Gender Base Violence and Health Initiative (SAGBVHI) , a partnership of 15 organisations dealing with gender-based violence and health issues, found in a research sample in South Africa’s nine provinces that police routinely make insensitive comments about rape; discourage survivors from pressing charges; and, they do not have the appropriate equipment, including transport. In the majority of cases, the police brought incomplete rape kits to the clinic or totally forgot to bring any kit, which hampered the collection of evidence required for prosecution.

The research also found that 28 percent of the health workers surveyed believe that rape is not serious or life threatening, and as a result, they do not treat it with the urgency it deserves. Women often have to wait for hours, usually in the general waiting rooms, to  receive medical attention.  If you get a woman who is “not bleeding heavily, then she can wait like others in the queue” was a typical response.

But why is rape treated differently? In patriarchal societies, women’s bodies are “owned and controlled” by their fathers and other men. Ways of demonstrating this power include the use of physical force and coerced sex.

Boys and men also seem to be easily forgiven for their sexual wrongs – the too common saying, ”’boys will be boys”’ or ”’men will be men”’, should be struck from any language.

Changing these underlying sexist beliefs force us to rethink the way we see social relations between men and women. These beliefs, which supposedly underpin who we are, need to drastically change and be replaced with more honest and rational ones where abuse of power is not tolerated. So far, very few have had the courage to grapple with these issues in any meaningful way.

Perhaps the fact that more men and children are raped in our societies will eventually force us to re-evaluate our inner beliefs and the value we place on human rights.

All of us with opportunities to influence the communities we live and work in must recognise rape as a serious violation of women’s human rights, and force through legislation, education and awareness, a change in the systemic sexism which is rampant in all of our institutions.

Naume Ziyambi is the Communications Officer at the Women’s Health Project in South Africa.

 This article is part of the GEM Opinion and Commentary Service that provides views and perspectives on current events.


janine@genderlinks.org.za for more information





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