Rape does not start in the bedroom

She wants to run but has nowhere to go. She wants to scream but has no voice. She wants to cry but has no tears. She is alone. Walls. Walls. That’s all she has. Four walls surrounding her, covered in cracks and mould. No picture frames. No light. Just walls. She lies curled up on a worn-out mattress and clutches her knees to her chest. The mattress smells like him. Her stomach churns and she chooses to lie on her back. She hates his scent. She tries not to focus on the smell and instead focuses on listening. There is a faint rustling of leaves outside and the occasional humming of birds but aside from that, there is silence.

But silence on the outside does not escape her from the agonising noises inside her head. Her inner screams, cries for help, voices of desperate longing and praying that he won’t come back. Her thoughts about him come in like a cancerous invasion. Every time she tries to take control of her mind and think of something different, those thoughts come back stronger and multiply. They haunt her. They never leave her alone.

The door suddenly latches open and makes her jump. She quickly turns around and prepares herself for what she already knows is going to happen. Her nose is hit by a strong stench of beer. She remains completely silent. She does not scream. She does not cry out for help. The only sound she can hear are those agonizing screams inside her head. Those agonising screams which become louder and louder as he drops his beer to the floor and pulls down his zip. He’s back.

Raping someone is not a spontaneous act, but a preconceived plan. Rape is not caused by alcoholism or drug intoxication or being part of a gang; it is caused by a person feeding their mind with inappropriate sexual thoughts. Rape is not just sex, it is violence. Violation. Power. Dominance. Control. Hatred. It does not start in the bedroom, it starts in a person’s mind. It is not a sudden moment of irrational thinking, it is a well-thought out decision. A person who chooses to rape has fantasized about rape long before they choose to do it. No, you cannot blame a woman because she is wearing provocative clothing. No, you cannot blame a little girl for taking a different route to get home late at night. No, you cannot blame a male victim for being in a prison cell full of other sex-hungry men. No, you cannot blame a homosexual person for choosing to love a person of the same sex as them. No, you cannot blame her because she is a prostitute. No, you cannot blame a wife for disobeying her husband. No you cannot get away with rape because you have good manners. No you cannot get away with rape because you’re a doctor, or a priest, or a family man. There is no situation in this world which makes rape okay, no person in this world who “deserves what he/she got”, no rapist in this world who deserves to get away with what they’ve done.

So what is the solution? How do we stop this sexual violence from happening? How do we create a society which will not tolerate rape under any circumstances? Maybe we could create awareness.  Maybe we could stop drug trafficking. Maybe we could prohibit alcohol. Maybe we could create safety procedures and protection services for those who are at risk of being raped. Maybe we could imprison rapists. These are all effective ways of reducing the instances of rape, but there is only one thing which can prevent rape.

The tongue.

The tongue is a very powerful tool. We can all control what we say, how we say it, who we say it to. Rape does not start in the bedroom. It starts with language. How are we talking about women? Are we sexualising their bodies or treating them with respect? Are we condoning sexual violence or condemning it? Are we discussing rape as a sign of strength and “machismo” or a sign of weakness? Are you talking to women as though they’re you’re equals or your inferiors? Are we saying that rape is justified if a person has a different sexual preference to us?

“She is my wife and she disobeyed me, she needs discipline man! I can’t just allow a person to get away with not listening to me, especially if she is a woman!”

“That chick deserved what she got. What was she thinking walking down an alleyway by herself? And she was basically wearing underwear!”

“Why do these women gott’ complain man? These days they always want to be stronger and better than a man. But they will never be better. The man is always above the woman under my roof.”

The tongue.

Let’s challenge rape culture by controlling our language about rape, sexual assault, harassment, violence, women and children. Let’s create a community where any human being can walk home and feel safe no matter what time they’re going home. Let’s create a community where rape is not tolerated. And let’s certainly create a community where rapists are not tolerated either. Let’s build a culture of consent by remembering where rape starts.

 

Lauren Pechey                                                          

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Lauren is currently studying Psychology at the University of Cape Town which has allowed her to put her heart and soul into understanding people, rape culture, gendered violence and women studies. She believes that every experience of womanhood is unique and intricately linked to one’s background, religion, race, culture, sexual orientation, disability, age and so on. She hopes to continue to speak out against gendered oppression and to one day provide adequate support to to people from all walks of life who have been victims of it

Awareness, responsibility and blame

By Jen Thorpe

Safety is a difficult thing to contemplate in a country where nowhere is really ‘safe’.  It is hard to pretend that we don’t know.  We can’t ignore the high crime statistics, and police commissioner requirements of stomach in chest out.  It’s almost impossible to meet anyone who doesn’t know anyone who has been victim of crime, or hasn’t been one themselves.  We don’t live in a safe place.  We should all be aware of danger.

I think perhaps this assumption that we should be aware of danger, or the belief that we all know that we live in a context of risk, comes with a strange social requirement that we must manage that risk.  Our walls are high, marked by an acoustic array of electric fencing, sirens and lasers.  We put alarms and bars across the windows, we lock our doors, and we have household-safes and money under our mattresses. We are afraid of strangers.  We take out insurance and the insurers bank on the fear economy that we live in.  We take on the responsibility for our protection.

For many the first question you are asked when you are a victim of a mugging was ‘Where were you walking? Was it at night? Were you alone?’ For a victim of a high-jacking we ask ‘Where were you driving? Were your doors locked?’ For rape survivors we ask ‘What were you wearing? Did you fight them off?’ What we’re really asking is ‘How are you to blame? Why didn’t you try harder to protect yourself?  It’s a complex blame game.

We can acknowledge that we live in a world of violence, that some areas and contexts are fraught with danger. But we must surely also be able to acknowledge that everyone has the right to be free from violence, and that blaming victims for crimes means that we don’t blame perpetrators.  We must acknowledge that entering into a dangerous situation doesn’t mean that you are the cause of that danger.

Sexual violence is fraught with stigma, shame, and social myths about women’s sexuality and women’s rights.  In sexual offences cases victim blaming is particularly prevalent because we see that there is complexity in all sexual situations, and that consensual sex is rarely as simple as saying yes.  South African norms of sexuality complicate our awareness of the crime because say that women say ‘no’ when they really mean ‘yes’, and that women who dress, live or fuck in a particular way deserve what they get.

Society expects women to take the same risk management strategies with their bodies as we take with our homes.  So when we hear about women being raped, society tells us the question we should ask them is why they didn’t try harder to protect themselves and prevent their own rape.  Our logic is so fixed by fear, that we can only blame the victim and be proud of ourselves for keeping safe.

This logic also convinces us that only some men rape.  That we can anticipate who those men are, and that we should therefore work harder to avoid them.  But in SA, statistics show that the men that women should be trying to protect themselves from, are the meant they know.  Worse, they are most likely their family members, fathers, uncles and brothers.  These are South Africa’s rapists.

It is possible to be aware that SA is dangerous, but I think the jump from awareness to responsibility and blame is a bigger one than we have acknowledged it to be.