Editor

What it takes to fight rape

In Media, Politics, Society on February 10, 2013 at 11:33 AM

I was angry when I read a Guardian report last year quoting Southern California Judge Derek Johnson saying women get raped because they [don’t] put up a fight” and that if they did their bodies “will not [allow the rape] to happen”. 

A former prosecutor in the OrangeCounty district attorney’s sex crimes unit, Johnson said this during the 2008 sentencing of a rapist that he had seen violent cases on that unit and that although he was not a gynecologist, he, however, could tell that: “if someone doesn’t want to have sexual intercourse the body shuts down. The body will not permit that to happen unless a lot of damage is inflicted, and we heard nothing about that in this case”.

While Johnson may have apologised for his comments at the time following the California Commission of Judicial Performance’s chairman, Lawrence J Simi, remarks that his comments were inappropriate and in breach of the judicial ethics and that they were “outdated, biased and insensitive” – I still can’t believe for the life of me how could a senior judge like Johnson have uttered such words. Worse, he said them publicly – not that saying them privately makes them any less insensitive, biased or outdated.

As I write this, I am lost for words for the many women, girls, grandmothers, mothers, sisters (and men too) who have been sexually assaulted and or raped by us men either directly or indirectly. I claim not to know what a rape victim goes through – physically, emotionally, and otherwise – but one can only imagine the somewhat shame they sometimes walk around the street with. In some cases, it is the very same victims who are accused of having initiated the sexual violence/rape by wearing mini-skits, walking alone late at night, etc. All these, and many others of course, cannot be cause for rape. When this cruel violence is exerted on their bodies, Johnson et al expect these vulnerable human beings to “put up a fight”, failing to forget that even if they do/did – these bastards often overpower them with their masculinity. As Pierre De Vos argued in his recently Constitutionally Speaking blog entry last week – to these rapists and sexual abusers “[it] is ultimately about [men] power and domination” because they “feel threatened by the changing world in which they cannot automatically assume that they will be respected merely because they are men”. Still, I think this is a wrong and an ill-informed assumption if they rape women because of their “men power and domination”.

If you’d recall the Indian rape in December last year of who was later known as 23-year-old Jyoti Singh Pandey and compare it with that of Western Cape’s Anene Booysen’s rape last week Saturday – and many other like Fezisa Mdibi on “Raped, again”, Akona Ndungane’s “I said NO”, a student who was gang-raped early this year, of pastors who are accused of rape, and the rise in the rape of elderly women (see also here and here) by those who might as well be their great grandchildren – you will remember very well that all these women did “put up a fight” but because they were overpowered by these jackasses, they got tired and were ultimately raped. Worse, the two (Jyoti and Booysen) had their intestines removed, according to media reports, and they both later died in hospitals. Strangely, all the accused in both cases pleaded not guilty. This goes to show just how CRUEL and inhumane some of us men can be.

The police’s release of accused rapists who might still pose danger to their alleged victims is also not helping. While the sentencing of some rapists is welcomed yet takes months, if not years, to be finalised – the statistics of rape in South African is quite high. The ineffective justice system is also blamed for the low sentencing of rapists and this is of course further compounded by many other reasons. And for President Jacob Zuma to release one of the convicted rapists on his Presidential special remissions programme did not sit down well with the rapist’s family.

As a result many now live in fear (see also here) that they might be next and that they will be raped again. This has further prompted elderly people to set up a safehouse as a rape case stroked their fears. And it is this fear of being raped again that Mdibi on wrote about in her Thought Leader article that “I still fear that it might happen to me again. In this society, I have no guarantee that it will not.” Worse, it is again this fear that resulted in Frances Andrade killing herself, according to the Guardian on Friday, after she gave evidence against her former music teacher who was later convicted of indecently assault assaulting her.

The newspaper reported that Andrade texted her friends before the suicide saying she felt “fragmented” and like she would be “raped all over again” after her cross-examination. This follows a police investigation which she had not initiated but that which was initiated by the mother of one of her violin pupils who raised the alarm in 2011. One of the developments, however, in the case which is suspected to have led to her committing suicide comes form her son, Oliver, who criticised the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) that his mother had been left to “cope on her own” with the traumatic impact of the case despite previous attempts to kill herself, the Guardian reported on yesterday (9 Feb).

According to the Guardian, Oliver said in a statement that her mother was “repeatedly called a ‘liar’ and a ‘fantasist’ about a horrific part of her life in front of a court challenged her personal integrity and was more than even she could bear. She was forced to relive the many times Michael Brewer had sexually abused her as a child, both to the police on multiple occasions and in court to a hostile party. Having been heavily advised by the police not to receive any form of therapy until the end of the case (a process of almost two years) she was forced to cope on her own with only the support of her family and very close friends. This meant that, even after several attempts at her own life, she did not get the help she needed. The court system let her down.”

Told by her abuser’s lawyer during cross-examination that she told the jury “a complete pack of lies”, Andreda said: “This is why [sexual abuse/rape] cases don’t come to court. This [sexual assault] happened. I felt guilty, I did not know how to get out of it.” Which is true. It was further during cross-examination when asked why she did not leave the abuser’s house at the time, Andreda responded: “You have got no idea clearly about what it is like to be raped. You have clearly no feminine understanding of what someone goes through like that. What shock your body goes through. How you almost feel you deserve it.” And this is what most rape or sexual abuse victims go through: accused of lying or having an ulterior motive for alleging rape when it did not happen while at times accused of wanting to extort money from the alleged rapists/abusers especially where the latter chooses to settle the matter out of court (probably due to the embarrassment the case would bring to him/her). This is similar to what Mdibi wrote about that because of these accusations, rape victims do not report these cases to police and instead resort to “self-help” just as Andrade did when she had to “cope on her own” because it was “the means by which I knew I was alive” while Mdibi, on the other hand, resorted to drug abuse. Of course there are many ways which work as the “means to stay alive”.

These include prostitution, alcohol abuse, giving up in life, etc. Instead of killing herself after the first rape, Mbidi ran away from home after a couple of months because of the way her rape was handled by the rapist and their parents, and that worse, she was not included in that discussion. She went to live with friends who were “doing all sorts of drugs at their house and I tried them too.” Less than a year, recalled Mbidi: I “snorted cocaine, tripped on LSD and ecstasy, drooled from mandrax and smoked weed on a daily basis, I drank a lot too”. She admits this made her “forget but only for a while so I just stayed high.” For Andrade, I suppose she spent most of her time emotionally playing that violin and using it as a form of therapy. Or not.

One of the other reasons rape or sexual abuse victims do not report rape is because of the police treatment and other threats that they would not see their day in court, as Mbidi witnessed. And like Andreda, when they do have their day in court, they care called “‘liars” “fantasists”. Mbidi was told by some of her second rapist’s friends that “He will kill you before you go to court” if she reported the case to the police. Worse, when she went to the police station to withdraw the case (probably because this threat), she was met with that she called “horrendous insults from the police”. “They told me the reason I am withdrawing the case is probably because I enjoyed it, that I wanted to have sex and wasted their time by reporting it. They all ganged up and insulted me.”

Following the Booysen incident, Young Communist League spokesperson Khaya Xaba called for each police station to provide training to each of its officer on how to deal with rape and sexual violence. Describing the incident as “stomach churning”, Xaba said “It is abhorrent that women reporting rape are often met with incredulous smirks by police”. “Police must be seen to be taking rape very seriously,” said the YCL spokesperson.

This after Booysen’s aunt, Wilma Brooks, wept as she described how badly the girl had been injured. Brooks said told the Cape Argus this week that: “[Booysen’s] throat had been slit, all her fingers and both legs were broken, a broken glass bottle had been lodged in her, her stomach had been cut open… That which was supposed to be inside her body lay strewn across the scene where they found her”. The girl’s mother, Corlian Olivier, too, according The Daily Maverick, recounted to the SABC the sight of her daughter after the attack: “My child almost looked purple. She was in such a bad state. All her fingers were broken, her legs were broken. Her stomach had been cut up, you could see her intestines. Her throat was also slit open.” A Doctor was quoted saying the victim had “lost a large part of her intestines. That is also why she didn’t survive”.

President Jacob Zuma on Thursday described the rape as “shocking”, “cruel” and “inhumane”. He said the “harshest sentences [should be imposed] on such crimes, as part of a concerted campaign to end this scourge in our society”. According to Zuma crimes “has no place in our country” and “we must never allow ourselves to get used to these acts of base criminality to our women and children.”

While not entirely agreeing with Pierre De Vos that expression of [rape] outrage is a distancing device and ultimately self-serving” especially where such only makes us feel better for a short period of time, I however agree with him that: “We live in a patriarchal society, a society dominated by men and largely structured to serve the interests of men. We live in a society in which men are often elevated in the social structure because of their presumed “natural” gender roles as strong, decisive providers. It is often assumed that men (the more senior the more powerful) have a right to exert control over women – whether through their cultural dominance or through violence or the threat of violence. Women are often devalued and assumed to need men’s supervision, protection, or control.”

Because expressing our outrage about rape “is not going to change the structures of power, privilege and domination from which all men benefit,” writes De Vos, what we need is a campaign that should address rape while at the same time going beyond pledges by men that they will respect women and treat them better than in the past. “Such a campaign needs to challenge male power and domination. In the absence of a complete change in power relations between men and women in society, pledges by men that they oppose rape and respect women run the risk of once again turning women into helpless and vulnerable victims in need of the protection of men, thus reinforcing the gender hierarchy that lies at the root of violence against women,” says the professor. Yes, we can never stop talking about rape and expressing our rage about it. But more than anything, we MUST do something about it because action speaks louder than words. And an “Over it [rape]” by Eve Ensler in The Huffington Post is a great way to start.

I, however, hope that I won’t be vilified by De Vos et al for expressing my rage against rape mainly because I am a man just as one of the #Slutwalkjhb organisers Walter Pike was accused by many Twitters and Facebookers. Addressing this sickness needs all of us.

Different from Johnson’s “put up a fight” – what we need NOW is to put up a different of more action than just talking from our computer screens so that this illness eating us inside should not happen. Again. Ever.

Related articles

“‘I told Anene not to be late’” by Cape Times report yesterday (8 Feb),

“’Root of rape in warped beliefs’” by The Times report yesterday (8 Feb),

9 Reasons why Men rape (emphasis added) by The Times report yesterday (Feb).

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