Sorry, we have no space for rape apologists.

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In October 2017 South African Kwaito star Sipho ‘Brickz’ Ndlovu strolled into the Roodepoort Magistrate’s Court wearing grey pants, a white shirt and a blue jersey. While his attire proved fairly neutral, his choice of accessory did not. Brickz completed his look with a heartless smile.

Smiles are not gestures usually frowned upon, but in this case, the amused expression was severely uncalled for, Brickz was facing a conviction of raping a 17-year old relative in 2013.

The archaic and far too simplistic excuse for rape dates back to 1886 – and that is that men rape women because of sexual deprivation therefore causing them to lose control of their urges in the presence of an unguarded woman. Psychologist Richard von Krafft-Ebbing wrote about this myth in his book Psychopathia Sexualis. He further writes that rapists suffer from a mental weakness that allow sexual urges to escape control. This is commonly now known as the hydraulic theory – The pressure of wanting to have sex is too much, and men are too weak, therefore a horrific crime manifests as a result.

Over a century later, the same theory persisted. In fact, the simplicity worsened. Alfred Kinsey, for example, the famed sexologist who founded the Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, dismissed the issue altogether saying that most rapes were false accusations and saying they caused no real hardship anyway.

Fast forward a few years later and as a result of the landslide of rape myths and falsified rape theories which are products of a patriarchal society we find ourselves, still, battling with what we now call rape apologists who still problematically exist in numbers in spite of the significant amount of scientific and psychological study, educational research and feminist theory.

Rape apologists argue that women ask for it, boys will be boys and most of all, women dramatise the act of non-consensual sex for attention, or simply that it never happened. Rape apologists are the men who are most likely to ask for “proof that it happened”, question “what she was wearing” or “what did she do to deserve it”, or smile in court denying that it happened all together, as in the case of Brickz.

Here’s what we know about the victim – she was under the legal age of consent at the time and a virgin, she was the musician’s cousin and she suffered severe bleeding as a result of the rape. We also know she had been infected with an STD and was struggling with depression after the heinous act saying that she wanted to kill herself. We also know Brickz, who told her to take a shower and never tell anyone what had happened, if she did, he would kill her. Then the focus moves back to Brickz, smiling in court, with no remorse, no empathy and an unhealthy degree of deniability.

The rape apologist pandemic is not one particular to South Africa. But in a country fraught with rape, where men should be at the forefront of recalling rape culture instead of perpetuating it, this is the last thing we need.

It is estimated that over 40% of South African women will be raped in their lifetime and that only one in 13 rapes are reported, while only 14% of perpetrators are convicted.

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In 2017/18 the police reported a record number of rapes at 40,035 for the year with 110 occurring daily but more than that, the Institute of Security Studies reports that the extent of the crime cannot accurately be estimated because there is no way of knowing how many women refrain from reporting the crime.

The survivors of rape are the forgotten and invisible demographic of our country. They silently exist on the dark fringes of society afraid of castigation, further punishment and judgment. Rape crimes will remain under reported as long as rape culture supports the perpetrator instead of the victim. Rape culture will continue to persist and pillage as long as it requires men to admit they’re guilty and for the public to believe instead of trusting the testimony of women. As long as this trend exists, rape apologists will continue to hold forth in a society already heavily burdened with the power of patriarchy and male privilege. We will continue to be burdened with men who can do what they want because they operate in an economy that disregards the autonomy of survivors and instead institutionalises the protection of male sexual entitlement.

A year after his conviction, another celebrity, DJ Cleo, visited Brickz in prison – he is serving a 15 -year sentence. In spite of being found guilty, in spite of raping what was effectively a child and more so, in spite of showing no remorse and no empathy. The DJ tweeted an image of their reunion and captioned said image with: “We all run our own races, he fell along the way… but the race is not over.”

It shouldn’t need saying, but it does: sexual offences against women is not a race to be run and rape is absolutely not a stumbling block along the way, but here we are – in a society where men, with platforms and larger than life audiences, come to the defence of other convicted rapists with watered down motivations of an incredibly serious national crisis.

Author: Haji Mohamed Dawjee

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of ‘Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa’. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @sage_of_absurd

We have created a Rape Survivors Toolkit for survivors friends, family & colleagues:

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Why people make a difference to the experience of survivors

Previously we wrote about the space created for discussion as we partnered with the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Law and Society to host a panel discussion on developing court models in South Africa. However, it was not only the space that we were grateful for, but also the content of the discussion.

As the three researchers, Lisa Vetten, Dr Aisling Heath, and Karen Hollely, shared some key findings from their work and presented their opinions to the people that attended, there was a very clear golden thread tying together their findings: people. When victims of sexual offences were interviewed during research conducted by the Child Witness Institute, it was clear that people’s experience of the criminal justice system and sexual offences court depends on the people that work in the court and how supportive they are. This was the same for when magistrates and prosecutors were interviewed about working in sexual offences courts – justice is dispensed by people and who those people are, matter greatly.

As survivors experience the criminal justice system, they experience people. The prosecutor who interviews them and who leads their testimony. The interpreter translating their testimony. The magistrate acting as the presiding officer. And the court supporter, holding the survivor through the process. Clearly the criminal justice system is not some far away “system” devoid of human interaction.
Clearly the criminal justice system IS people.

The question then is how do we make sure that we have the right people who will not only limit secondary trauma suffered by the survivor, but will also ensure that justice is served and that perpetrators are convicted? Fortunately, research (like what was presented at this panel discussion) can provide enormous help in this regard and the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign uses this information when lobbying government for the rollout of sexual offences courts.

We are currently lobbying the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development to finalise the Regulations for Sexual Offences Courts. The regulations provide the minimum requirements for a sexual offences court to exist, including the people that should work at such a court. One of the issues that we lobbied for, is the inclusion of court supporters in the requirements for sexual offences court. We hear what researchers say about the importance of the right people providing support to survivors in the criminal justice system and we could use this information to lobby for specialised court supporters provided by Non-Profit Organisations and funded by the Department of Social Development. Although the regulations have not been finalised, we are very positive that specialised court supporters will be included.

The powerful thing about research then, is when words come to life. When research is used to make real-life changes in legislation and people’s experience of courts, that is when we know positive change is happening.

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Jeanne Bodenstein is the coordinator of the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign for the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust.