Yesterday for the first time in a very long while, I sat and thought about rape again which ghostly presence had never quite left the scene as far as I was concerned. One can mainly think about rape against women because rape of male members of the society are less frequent although in some countries they too occur with almost as much frequency as for women. My concern, for now, dwells with rape perpetrated against women.
A friend had brought back to memory this skeleton by sharing a TedX talk by Sunitha Krishnan and a more personal recent event that I choose not to dwell upon at this point in time made the talk much more vivid than I would have liked.
It occurred to me that we all tiptoe around the subject most of the time without giving it its right share of clear and informative attention and for once it was heartening to watch again this talk, what one could call a real “Hard talk” no frills included, about a subject that is too quickly swept under the carpet. What is more surprising than the fact that this subject is usually kept under covers is the expediency that it is dealt with as compared to the effect it retains within the lives of those that it affects and the permanence it holds in the brains and the subsequent behavioural framework of the remaining “spectators” who more often than not become an extension of the perpetrator’s vilifying of the affected person.
Of late, it would even seem that this matter has almost reached a consensus of normality within society whereby the person should have suffered extreme atrocities together with the act itself for anyone whether media or other members of the society to take note of it – whatever their active or passive role (policemen, judges, caretakers, social workers, friends, neighbours, chasers of thrill-cum-horror stories or mere passer-bys).
Other than these sadly prominent cases, rape it seems has cloaked itself with normality as far as the act itself is concerned and the reaction to its perpetrators with regards to society’s attitude towards it. What is distressing in comparison is the lack of normality with which society as a whole deals with the affected person. Usually, the person is asked to keep hushed about the subject, most of the time not even to report it and little is done with the aftermaths of the incident which most people around would just ask the person to forget if not forgive. Sometimes, the person is ostracised to an extreme point not being able to attend school or get a job with the even worse cases of a totally ruined personal life where the husband (if any) shuns her or no person accepts to be involved in a binding relationship such as a marriage with her in future. Most of the time, it is to avoid being ostracised that women are asked not to speak about the incident and not to report it to authorities.
This attitude of ostracising the raped person is even more pronounced in traditional areas where people are not comfortable talking about rape or, even worse, people actually believe (sometimes not clearly but with just the impression at the back of their mind) that a woman can only have been raped if she somehow “brought it upon herself” either by collaborating actively with the perpetrator or by creating the circumstances that allow the incident to unfold. One example of “deemed collaboration” is the infamous case of dismissed rape where the Italian Supreme Court overturned a 1992 rape conviction involving a 45-year-old driving instructor and an 18-year-old student under the assumption that the young girl could not have been raped as she was wearing tight jeans and would have had to remove them herself implying consensual sex. As for “permissive circumstances”, it is evidenced by the number of people who believe that a person scantily clothed or who had a drink too much invited the rape or “asked for it” as they usually coin it,– seemingly and this is actually appalling, 65% of Brazilians according to a research undertaken in collaboration with UN Women’s Brazil branch).
To further understand the misconceptions surrounding rape, I would like to direct people who have made it reading this far to an interesting article albeit not really complete about the myths and truths of rape which is quite simple and easy to read. I hope that it will shed some light on the myths that must be fought if we want to replace rape in its right context, that of a crime against a person who was neither “asking for it” nor collaborating with the perpetrator http://rapecrisis.org.za/rape-in-south-africa/myths-stereotypes-about-rape/
Fortunately, in most cases where there is extreme unfairness and violence, society – at least the ones where its members are not living like in the dark ages – would manifest a degree of solidarity towards the affected person. This is how for example Denim Day was established in 1999 as a global protest against the 1992 ruling of the Italian Supreme Court which had overturned the 1992 rape conviction. This is also how in the aftermaths of the heinous crime against “Nirbhaya” in New Delhi as well as the successive wave of rapes and hanging of women in the State of Uttar Pradesh in India or in Pakistan, the general public was very present both in India and abroad with strikes, marches and other manifestations of anger and support, such that laws were made to change in order to further protect women in India and strengthen the existing protective measures within the country.
Unfortunately, this striving to re-establish a sense of equity by either helping the persons affected by rape immediately after the incident or by ensuring that the victims of rape who have succumbed following the incident have not died in vain – insofar that measures are put in place to avoid similar incidents happening – is simply not enough. The deeper side of the problem remains what happens to those that survive. Usually, when they have spoken out aloud, their life never stays the same. Slowly, they start being side-lined out of their usual circles if they are not completely ostracised and even where there is compelling evidence that the woman in question was not at fault, most people seem to keep the underlying assumption that somehow she must have done something wrong for such a thing to happen. Worse still, there are members of society who though knowing that the woman was absolutely not at fault still prefer not having her at home, in their workplaces, or even not being in contact with her at all. More than the jittery and totally superstitious attitude of some who think that the person must be jinxed for such a thing to happen to her if she did not “ask for it” there is the attitude of those who consider themselves too pure and pristine to be involved with someone who is considered stained, tarnished, not fit for evolving in a decent society because she has been subjected to something somehow indecent, unacceptable, unforgettable, unforgivable.
These attitudes are like little or sometimes large stones that we throw at the affected persons or make them carry, throughout their lives sometimes. “Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone” said the consciousness of Love or Christ consciousness about another case where a woman was being badgered. I say let she or he who has sinned or not by endorsing the vilifying attitude or by ignoring it shatter the first stone. Let us all shatter rape’s stones; both the ones thrown at the affected person and the ones we burden them with during a lifetime.
It is time for society as a whole to recognise its role in such incidents. It is time for men to start endorsing their responsibility in building this framework where it is legit for violence to be committed against a woman. It is time mainly for us women to awaken to our shared responsibility in such happenings. We are the wives, mothers, sisters and daughters of those who potentially could rape or effectively have raped a woman. It is our responsibility to make sure that the environment we bathe our men in is void of anything encouraging or legitimising any bad feelings or inclination to violence towards women. Indeed, in reality, most of the rape cases are not a case of sexual desire towards a woman gone awry. In most cases, it is a question of power over the woman, an expression of a loathing towards women in general or a woman in particular because of a feeling of anger, bitterness or hatred bred throughout the years.
Unfortunately, many mothers fail in this responsibility as they teach on a daily basis – with so many little nothings that then build to a monstrous something – that a woman’s value is much less than that of a man, that a man’s needs are defined as compellingly superior to a woman’s needs, that a woman should be subservient and that no matter what happens she must have done something wrong, that she must obey against her better instincts, against her better interests. In traditional environments, women who seek the help of their male offspring to “tame” and make subservient the female offspring are already building the future rapists, those who hold in them the potential of gratuitous violence against women because they are taught to think that it is legit, that it is endorsed even by the women themselves as this attitude is upheld from a young age by the doting and so unenlightened mothers.
Personally I have been trying to do my best with my two boys and have raised them with the ingrained belief that men and women are equal and that one should only do to another what one would not mind doing to oneself and vice versa. In a symmetrical way, I have explained to my daughter the dangers that lie out there, the need for protection and the requirement to use one’s better judgement because unfortunately this crime is becoming more and more of a normalised matter in society. I have even used my own case in point as an example to ensure that the matter is understood as a reality touching potentially any rank and type of family in society and not a theoretical danger that is far removed from its effective happening or limited to the poorer families.
Above all, I tell those who have come to me with their secret confession of being a rape “victim” as I would like to keep telling other women again and again: we are not victims, we are not survivors, we are women. Nothing differentiates us from any other woman out there. What happened might have left a temporary or more lasting hurt or imprint on the body but we are not and cannot be defined by that, we rise beyond that to reintegrate in time what we were originally and all that is left of the perpetrator is a ghost and in time even that ghost disappears. We will not be victims, we will not be mere survivors, we are all else that we choose to be whether with society’s support or without it. Wherever our gaze wishes to go, expect us. Get used to us, get used to our strength. We are.