The reason it has been important to address “rape” and other sexual violences (although albeit to a limited extent) as extensively as we have, is honestly that as time goes along, it becomes more prevalent, and yet there is such minimal public and policy discourse on it, as a national issue.
And I genuinely believe it is a national problem, which has become a crisis, that affects all of us, from our various classes, races, ages, tribes, and economic backgrounds. Nobody is safe from it, because of what it is.
So I am going to offer five points that we could perhaps use in combatting this pandemic. The five are nowhere near exhaustive. They are the ones I believe can summarise many of the others. These are some of the things we can do, in our own spaces of influence.
l Name the Problem and Prioritise the Need to Re-Define Masculinity
The problem is violent masculinity. Violence in society is organised by and defines gender. Masculinity is usually associated with dominance, ambition, authority, self-reliance, and willingness to take a stand. In the converse, femininity is ascribed softness and other attributes, like affection, sensitivity, gentleness, submission and tenderness. There is no question that we live in perpetual fear of violence; and by we I mean women, men, and other persons of diverse identities as well as children. Violent masculinity equally encourages violence against women as well as men and all other people. We know that there is violence even in other relationships. Society normalises this violent state, and in fact encourages it, by making accepting sexual violence as normal, worshiping men who are aggressive, and accepting that as admirable qualities to aspire to. We need to resist beliefs that say rape stems from uncontrollable male urges. We need instead, to question and resist the link between violence and masculinity. We also need to stop blaming survivors for rape and other violence they live through. This perpetuates rape culture and gives rapists an opportunity to exercise their perceived authority and power over others.
l Prioritise Consent
We need to all learn that everyone’s “no” is enough, and it should be heard. The culture of virtually accepting some no’s as a basis for negotiation, and manipulation needs to stop. We must hear the no’s that are sometimes not expressly said. Resistance and reluctance are not an invitation to be “convinced”. We have to stop celebrating and decorating the idea that a man must pursue a woman, persistently, and despite her “no”. This must be taught to every one of us, from our young to our old, right through the youth. It is obvious that sexual relationships are currently negotiated in very uncertain environments. It seems we exist in a time where there is perpetual sexual pressure, and the promotion of the idea of tenacity. It’s almost like men are hunting
l Hold Those Who Report on Rape Accountable
Reporting on sexual violence has to be done with dignity. It is important that sexual violence be reported on to impact on knowledge, beliefs, attitudes and behaviours. However, we must hold our media personnel to higher standards as their role is of greater influence on social norms as they are the main information source.
It is important that we encourage a media generation that deconstructs misconceptions on rape and sexual violence, from a position of understanding the complexities of the problem. There needs to be a counter-storytelling, which explores how counternarratives can serve a vital role in empowerment.
l Take an Intersectional Approach to Addressing Rape
Nadeeka Karunaratne says that the ways, in which sexual violence and rape are treated, are usually “isolating, marginalising and therefore ineffective. “Perpetrators use these forms of violence to exert control and power over other persons. The truth is that justice does not look the same for all survivors. It is a complex construct. So our support must have the interests of each survivor at heart. We should know that what works for one will not work for another. And that does not invalidate the other’s experience. The support we offer, can therefore not be, a one size fits all.
l Practice Real Politics
Many people believe that they are against rape, and yet, often without knowing it and sometimes in efforts to help, encourage rape culture. When you “teach women how to avoid rape”, it perpetuates rape culture because it assumes that women are raped because of something they do. It is also problematic for a person who says they stand against rape, to say that women are raped because they drink and smoke like men do. I make reference here to Nunu Lesetedi’s interview, in which he effectively places responsibility for violence against women, on women. This thinking is misleading. If we oppose rape, we have to address the rapists, and the problems of encouraging violence in accepting aggression by men. We also have to stop laughing at rape jokes and to call out our inappropriate friends.
As I stated earlier, this list is not exhaustive. So much more has to be done in addressing and preventing rape. But it is a starting point.