When Rape Happens…
When rape happens, it’s easy for our society to pass judgment. We just want to pass blame to the victim and leave it at that. But beyond the rape culture of victim blaming, what’s next? We normalise sexual harassment and rape and we do nothing concrete about ending the evil. What society is so good at is blaming victims over and over. In a time where social media is a powerful tool for information and activism, we rant and rave for at most a week, and that’s it. Make no mistake, rage is a powerful tool that women can harness and I absolutely urge you to. Be an angry feminist. We have so much to be very angry about. Feminism addresses why we should apportion blame appropriately on the rapist because that’s just the first step to taking back the power. When rape happens, what do you do? What are the things that actually help the victim? What can we do to disempower rapists?
When a person tells you they’ve been raped or sexually assaulted; here are some things you can and should do.
Never Blame the Victim
“She likes boys too much. She’s already had sex several times. Why did she go to his house? Who knows what actually happened?” Don’t do it!
We must reiterate that rape is not caused by victims; and once there is no consent, rape has occurred. Firstly, if you’re the victim, don’t attempt to blame yourself. It’s not your fault. Secondly, if a person tells you they’ve been raped, don’t attempt to lay blame on them. Don’t say things like, ‘But why did you wear that skirt na?’ ‘Shade, you know these things happen. Why you go to his house?’ Resist the temptation to be an instrument for promoting rape. Know that rapists cause rape, not a victim’s dress or their mere existence. Know that drunkenness of the rapist does not excuse the crime. DON’T BLAME THE VICTIM.
Believe the victim
Believing a victim is about the most supportive and empowering thing you can do. I know for a fact that false rape allegations exist and they are heinous. Another fact is that false allegations do not speak for the entirety of rape allegations; they are a small percentage. More so, most ‘false’ allegations have been proven to mean that the case does not meet the criteria to prove the offence in law due to insufficient evidence or delayed reporting. Meanwhile, actual rape cases are occurring in their thousands across countries. In South Africa, it’s 500,000 cases a year! It is ‘so common it barely makes the news’.
In countries like Botswana, not only are rape cases prevalent, the country has one of the highest incidences of AIDS with a population that believes sex with a virgin will cure AIDS, creating an equally high occurrence of the rape of children.
Rape is occurring in terribly high numbers all across the world. But in a world that does not care for protecting victims, we place far more emphasis on the few instances of false allegations than in cases where the victim said the truth and the rapist was not brought to justice. False accusations have far-reaching effects and are a serious problem and barrier even to helping real victims of rape, but don’t treat every victim like they are lying. The numbers show that they are most likely not. So please, believe the person who tells you about their trauma.
Seek medical attention
Get a doctor to attend to the victim. It’s very important to have a medical professional examine and treat victims of sexual assault and rape especially to protect against diseases and infections. The laws of most countries also require a medical report to state that the crime has indeed occurred by the alleged rapist before a conviction can be obtained. Rape laws provide for stringent requirements that must be met and to attain justice, a medical examination-and report- is a necessary step.
Encourage reporting – don’t force
Have you heard about the culture of silence? It’s this hush-hush thing we have going on in most parts of the world- Africa inclusive- when a bad thing occurs. In many countries like Sierra Leone, the culture of silence is prevalent in issues of rape. Don’t talk about it. Act like it didn’t happen. Oh, there’s a pregnancy from the rape? It fell in.
What the culture of silence does is to heavily discourage reporting rape cases. In this way, the law cannot be used to bring rapists to justice. Rape is about the most under-reported crime all over the world. In South Africa, for instance, more than 40% of women will be raped in their life them but only 1 out of 4 incidences are reported. The culture of silence is most pervasive, putting down the victims and empowering the rapist. It needs to be brought to an end. for child-victims, the guardians do not report until it is too late to save the child.
I know for a fact that it is not easy to speak up about being sexually assaulted, harassed or raped. But there is a catharsis that comes with letting out; a discovery that, no matter how cliché it may sound, you are not alone. I was 18 when I was sexually assaulted. I had developed a relationship with this person where we were constantly on the phone together- calls and texts everyday for about 3 months. We were on holiday from school and when we resumed, we obviously couldn’t wait to see each other. I went to his house. We kissed, no big deal. Until he was pushing and holding me down. I said No so many times I lost count. I couldn’t move and somehow I was still saying No but I couldn’t hear my voice. I still had my clothes on. I figured there was no way he was going to try to pull them off that wouldn’t give me space to move a little because he was so pressed on me that I couldn’t even move my head. And he was a big person. He left my clothes on and just kept at it until he was satisfied. He got up, saying nothing. I left, saying nothing. He never called me again. I never called him again. I said nothing about because, let’s face it, read through again and check if you didn’t judge me at least once. I was ashamed and angry at myself. I’ve never mentioned it to anyone except one time I said ‘one boy wanted to force himself on me’. This is the first time I have ever spoken about it.
I’ve come to know and accept that it was not my fault, and it’s not yours either. Reporting is what you should do to help make sure the rapist is caught. Called out. Rapists should be held accountable for their actions.
Don’t minimise the experience
Don’t say things like “But you be man na! How you go say person rape you?” “Are you injured? Oh, it’s not that bad. Sorry.”
Don’t tell stories that you feel are worse than that of the victim. Don’t share other rape stories in order to tell the victim they’re not the first to experience rape. Don’t tell the victim it could have been worse. And at the same time, don’t make the survivor feel worse by too many exclamations and expressions of pain.
Use a support system
Healing from the trauma of rape is a slow process. You need a healthy circle; good friends, family and/or a therapist. While you should talk to at least one person who helps you through the process, it’s okay if you’re not ready just yet. There are initiatives that can listen to your stories, counsel and help you through the process such as South Africa’s Rape Crisis, StandToEndRape and ShareAnonymous.
When a person tells you they’ve been raped or sexually assaulted, don’t overwhelm them with what you want to do. Always ask what they want to do; encourage but don’t push. Don’t overwhelm victims with pity. Don’t minimise their experiences. Don’t make it about yourself. Don’t judge. Don’t try to cast doubt on their stories. Don’t ask why a victim didn’t speak up sooner.
Help rape victims become survivors. Hold rapists accountable and bring them to justice.
I hope this encourages someone. You can leave a comment if you choose. Our dms @coloured_africa are open. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like.