Rape: victim shaming an easy way out?

survivorWhen I was growing up, I remember my brothers having more freedom than I. They had better chances of going out while I had to stay home as “I am a girl, I could get raped or get pregnant”. Even at that age, I wondered how selfish it is that my parents would let their sons roam at the expense of the other girls out there, and why boys couldn’t be kept indoors so we girls could safely go out.

The same notion was expressed by the  Gurgaon police, India who placed a curfew on women asking them to be home by 8pm to prevent being sexually assaulted. This reminds me of my aunt asking me to take her iPad off her 4 year old son so he doesn’t break it. You see the correlation here, both have to be saved from themselves as they know no better, self-control is a word that bears no meaning to them. God forbid we blame them for their crime. After all, these rapists are only boys who make mistakes.

We live in a culture where sexual violence towards women is normalised, comedians spout jokes about it, musicians boasts of it and go ahead to win awards off it. Metro posted an article about Iggy Azalea standing up to Eminem’s lyrics threatening to rape her, and comments on the post ranged from people expressing their hatred for her to claiming she was using it as a career step up since Eminem’s lyrics have always been of that nature;“Omfg! Eminem has been doing this for years ffs! Kim, Maria, Christina, Britney. But now it’s Iggy apparently its wrong a disrespectful. Just trying to make a bigger name for herself”, others thought it was about time they told her of how she needs to improve on her wardrobe as “her outfit is ugly”, whilst another guy added,  “the fact that she thinks her music can even compare to the likes of someone like Eminem is insulting enough to provoke justified hatred.

Yes, my mouth is still wide open in shock.  Side lining the real issue of a man publicly threatening  to rape a woman, empty threat or not, his fans instead buttressed the point that he is a talented singer and went ahead to further attack her verbally. Similar were the comments on the Guardian’s article on Bill Cosby, where the alleged victims were treated with cynicism “why come out now?“, “innocent until proven guilty“,  “where is the evidence?”

The backlash against rape victims shows the extent to which the society we live in do not cater for women who have been sexually harassed. No wonder the women who claimed to have been assaulted by Bill Cosby weren’t so confident to speak out and why Jimmy Saville wasn’t brought to justice until his death, because with the society’s fixation on celebrity worship, fame translates into getting away with crime. While the statistics of reported rapes are overwhelming with some victims bearing further harassment, called liars and treated like dirt by the public, we know there are many more as half of these cases go unreported and 7.3% of those reported are written off as no crime.

While I agree with the frequent cry “we shouldn’t be telling victims how not to get raped, we should be teaching men not to rape,”  I do not believe there will come a time when all men will know not to rape. Just as murder, theft will always be a part of our society, we are unfortunately stuck with rapist scums, and aspiring to reach an utopian state is only a dream for the disillusioned.

Instead, we should be aiming for a state where rapist are put to shame and are made to undeniably realise that they have committed a crime. A society where a victim is confident to step forward and report the crime knowing she will receive help not dismissed by the police, a society where an alleged rapist will be treated with suspicion at the very least until proven innocent not greeted with a standing ovation, where convicted rapist will not be allowed to continue their careers with only a slap on the wrist, a state where no one finds rape jokes funny or think a woman’s short skirt or drunkenness entitles her to rape when fact shows there is no correlation between a woman’s outfit (babies in nappies, women in burqas, grannies in saggy pants)and rape.

I wonder why people are often more sympathetic about the effect of allegations  on perpetrator’s career or reputation, not bearing a thought for what the victim is going through. Rape is an appalling crime committed against a person’s body, it’s the only crime that its evidence and crime scene remains with you. Your body was violated, defiled and you are left with the carcass to carry around, an even heavier burden if your perpetrator goes free or you couldn’t even summon the confidence to charge them to court. You doubt if your body is really yours and  live the rest of your life in hyper vigilance  and mistrust.

Now, according to statistics, majority of rape are committed by familiar people (relatives, family friends, college friends, husbands). I think these men are counting on the appalling treatment meted out to rape victims and  the inefficiency of authorities as enough deterrent to silence victims. After all, only 3 out of 100 rape cases will actually lead to conviction with 60% going unreported.

Why is it easier to stone a girl to death for getting gang raped than convict the perpetrators? Or hang a rape victim for having sex outside marriage? Why would a police man excuse a gang rape as a punishment meted out for infidelity? What is it about a woman’s body that needs to be wrapped, covered and presented in a certain way to ward off attack from men? Because I see good looking men with bunching muscles and I do not even think of raping them. Is this because of my lack of physical prowess to do so or I realise it is simply wrong? Why do we cultivate and encourage the culture of male sexual entitlement? Why is a woman’s body up for grabs on default? I believe these are fragments of our society we should critically engage with, because with a statistics of 1 in 5, tomorrow it could be your daughter, mother, sister or even you.

Statistics

  • Among female rape victims, perpetrators were reported to be intimate partners (51.1%), family members (12.5%), acquaintances (40.8%) and strangers (13.8%).  http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/SV-DataSheet-a.pdf
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Education, marriage, motherhood?

I have recently graduated from the University. Now, if you’re African and a female then you know what is next on the pre-written-cannot-be-edited-or-tweaked-carved-in-stone list for you. Yes you guessed it, marriage.

Aunties and their friends, family friends, well wishers,  practically everyone -like they’ve attended a meeting and decided on the next agenda for your life- teases, jokes and not so jokingly asks  you for the man, a suitor, your boyfriend. Your mum calls you for talks, looking earnest and serious as she prods “so what is your plan?” “give me a name, let me start praying”  “there is no guy you like or that has shown interest in you?”.

Now, if you are single and have no idea of getting into a relationship let alone getting married any time soon, you know this is a dilemma. Explaining yourself is likely to fall on deaf ears, explaining how you intend to pursue your career will only produce suspicious stares followed by lectures on how you’re not getting any younger.It is funny how my brother had graduated some years ahead of me, living with a girl he truly loves and no one is pressuring him about getting married.

While I haven’t decided yet if I am a feminist, or even dissected the difference between Western and African feminism or Black feminism as the case might be to see where I fit in, I definitely know I won’t go along life ticking a list that has been written on the bedrock of so called culture.

Being African by birth (both parents are African), I believe what I instinctically do should culminate what being an African woman entails, not me having to follow a set of rules passed down  and policed by a society steeped in patriarchy. Thereby reinforcing its view on what an African woman is expected to be.

Times are changing and if we all lived by culture without so much as amending it, twins in Calabar will still be getting killed, 19 will be considered too old an age to be single, women won’t be voting or owning lands or wearing trousers or riding horses in straddle. Yeah, ridiculous right?