Rape calamity in SA fuelled by society's attitudes and government indifference

Generally, women are unable to share their experiences of rape and report perpetrators because they feel unimaginable shame even though they have done nothing wrong, says the writer. / 123RF
Generally, women are unable to share their experiences of rape and report perpetrators because they feel unimaginable shame even though they have done nothing wrong, says the writer. / 123RF

SA's high rape rate is a serious cause for concern that requires more attention at national level.

In fact, sexual violence against women is a global burning issue, but very little is understood about the complexities rife in sexual violence occurrences, including sexual coercion and non-reporting. These are perpetuated by rape myths that plague our society.

Before delving into that, I must state that sexual violence pervasiveness as perpetuated by a rape culture and societies' nonchalant attitude should not be underestimated.

It is very concerning that the president of the governing ANC Women's League compared her scrutiny as a failed administrator in the government to being raped. It is unimaginable that Bathabile Dlamini could have stooped any lower.

As a politician, she exploited the gender empowerment narrative on end, but her recent comments that: "I feel like I was, you know when you're undressed and raped? That is the feeling I had."

This should be condemned by all. No madam, you do not know the feeling of being raped if you have never been raped. Women who have been raped suffer silently, unable to share their horrific experiences and unable to report to the police due to fear of secondary victimisation.

There are working women who experience sexual harassment daily by their bosses or their colleagues.

Sometimes, women are unaware of what they can do to prevent the harassment but most of the time there are no support structures for them. But women have found the courage to share their experiences when they feel safe and supported.

What we don't know is how to better educate society to be kinder to victims of sexual violence - from our courts to our homes and in schools.

Generally, women are unable to share their experiences and report perpetrators because they feel unimaginable shame even though they have done nothing wrong. Unlike Dlamini they have suffered unimaginable trauma and have no courage to speak out and report their experience.

It's more complex than we think. Research shows that most times women also lack the knowledge to name sexual violence - as experienced by them - even though such acts plainly meet the legal definition.

This may because of the rape myths perpetuated by society. For instance, people don't believe that not all rape victims scream or resist fiercely. Society is oblivious about the complexities, for instance, surrounding acquaintance rape.

Rape is not always by a stranger - and where a victim knows their assailant they face challenges. For instance, a victim may question their pre-rape communication and face uncertainty about the experience. As mentioned before, rape is quite complex.

Research shows that where there is an imbalance of power sometimes a victim may be ambiguous about what might constitute consent since it is often inferred without considering the unequal power in the relationship.

Look at the Sexual Offences Act, which lists coercive circumstances operating to vitiate consent.

The amendment to the law came as a result of responsiveness that the victims of rape are put on trial to prove the absence of consent to sexual intercourse on their part.

Always remember that "consent" means voluntary or uncoerced agreement. There is no consent when there is a "threat of harm" against a complainant, or when there is an "abuse of power or authority" by the accused. For example, if your boss threatens your job if you do not sleep with him and as a result of the pressure you sleep with him, it's rape.

Societies' attitude towards this calamity needs to change.

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