Saturday, February 9, 2013

When we blame the victim

I have to get something off my chest today. Having spent the last 4 months working on the One Billion Rising Campaign, and having seen some things and heard some things that honestly I wish I had never seen or heard, I am at a point where I am extremely sensitive on the issue of rape and violence against women. I am of the mind that we as human beings are just not outraged enough by what is going on every day, every minute, every second around the globe. I am of the mind that we are not disgusted enough that girls and women are getting raped then gratuitously mutilated, cut up, disemboweled and left for dead. I am fed up with people who will try to sideline the issue by stating that “women rape too” or that men also suffer abuse at the hands of women. I do not dispute this fact at all and I am concerned about that also. However, when you show me stories of men being gang raped by women then cut up and left lying in pools of their own blood, then maybe I will champion the cause of violence against men as vociferously as I talk about the fact that 1 in 3 women on this planet will experience rape or violence in her lifetime. When the statistics for female- on- male violence come anywhere near as close to the stats for male- on- female violence then I will sit up and do something about that also. However for now, I choose to focus on the war against the feminine which has gone unchecked for centuries. I choose to Rise up against the Patriarchal structure that has allowed this madness, this atrocity against my own kind to grow into a huge cancerous mass that is consuming us steadily. What this means is that I have zero tolerance for anyone who dares to blame the victim of rape, or who blames the females in the victim’s life. Let’s get real here: rape and violence against women happens no matter what a woman is wearing or where she chooses to go. Women in Afghanistan who are completely covered up save their eyes are raped daily, and then executed for getting raped. That act of execution is placing the blame of rape squarely on the victim’s shoulders and she pays for her own rape with her life.

I am bothered by the discourse surrounding the brutal rape and disembowelment of seventeen year old Anene Booysen( here) in which some people are asking why she was out that late in a tavern. Or where was her mother? Implicit in these questions is blame, it was her fault that she was out late at night or it was her mother’s fault that her daughter was out late and got raped. Just to illustrate how flawed this kind of thinking is, there is another recent story. A 15 year old girl in Chicago was taking trash out when a car pulled up, dragged her in and she was taken to a home where she was gang raped by three men for hours (here). Who do we blame for this girl’s abduction and rape? Whose fault is it that she was taking the garbage out to the trash can? Why must women live in perpetual fear and change their behaviors when they are NOT the ones committing rape?

Rape is never the victim’s fault or anyone’s fault but the rapist. Subtle language that insinuates that the victim or someone other than the perpetrator of the crime is to blame is part of the reason we are not angry enough about this issue. When we fully accept that rape is a violent crime and that those who rape should face the full extent of the law (by law here, I mean either jungle justice on the streets or the courts of law).

I remember a time when a man would get beaten up by other men if he dared to beat his wife either in public or in private. Women knew to scream blue murder because someone would come to their rescue. Now it seems that men will form a mob to humiliate and to encourage the rape or beating of a woman in broad daylight. There are numerous stories of women in Harare being stripped naked by mobs of men for wearing a mini skirt. Yesterday I watched a video of a group of about 8 men beating up two girls for stealing a bottle of wine. Earlier this year I watched a video of a Nigerian girl beaten up and stripped naked for stealing a cell phone. What is seen in the videos is the sexual humiliation of stripping the women down to their underwear or totally divesting them of all clothing and kicking their legs apart. These men video tape their atrocities and share them with the world. What happened? When did the streets we walk on become war zones for women? What is the difference in terms of safety between a woman in Harare or Johannesburg and a woman in a remote part of the Congo? Nothing because in both cases these women can be gang raped, with impunity for the perpetrators. In both cases these women are not safe and their womanhood places them at risk for assault.

We need to be angry and the decent men need to express more outrage at this violation of the feminine. Men need to step up, and be heard speaking unequivocally against the violation of their mothers, sisters, wives, girlfriends, colleagues and children. When good men are silent and remain uninvolved then they are sending a message of endorsement to this sickness. Yes, in your silence you are all complicit and perhaps you can live with the fact that the women most precious to you are at high risk for being violated. If you cannot accept this then you need to be heard and you need to RISE! When enough men Rise and pitch their voices with those of the feminine, this madness will stop. If this does not happen, then policies will not change, the law and penalties will not be enforced and the rot will get worse and deeper. Men need to challenge every circumstance where a woman is harassed or degraded in their presence. They should be affronted by this and they should become intolerant of misogynistic comments among their friends and colleagues. They should shame their fellow men who talk trash about women in the name of “locker room banter”. The words expressed by people often reveal the darkness hidden in their hearts and given an opportunity, many will act on their dark thoughts. When they are shamed for this and made face the ugliness that they harbor, perhaps they will find it that much harder to act out those things.  And if they do go ahead and rape then there should be swift, effective application of the law, such that the perpetrator and potential perpetrators will be shocked out of their sick spiral towards hurting women.

The more we allow rape and violence to go unpunished the more desensitized society becomes and the more normalized it becomes. To remain sensitized we need to have ZERO tolerance towards rape and violence against women. ZERO tolerance means NEVER ever blaming the victim ever.


  1. Justice must be applied in all cases of rape or the rapist learns nothing but to rape again. It would be unkind to do less for the concern of both parties.
    Micah 6:8 "What does the Lord require of you? To do justice, to love kindness and walk humbly with your God."

  2. Awesome article. I have been saying this...if someone is not sick, outraged, slamming-the-wall infuriated beyond all reason, then that person is not paying attention.

  3. Great post! Thank you! I too agree that no matter what a women does, she does not deserve to be harassed or assaulted. There is no justification for rape.

  4. You hit the nail on the cultural head with one sentence: "These men video tape their atrocities and share them with the world." These men have an audience. Changing the mainstream culture is a huge start, but it isn't enough. The rapists and perverts and paedophiles and voyeurs must be weeded out and stopped - cut off their audience and they have no-one to play with. Somebody's freedom of speech or right to an uncensored internet does not trump my freedom to live without fear of violence.

  5. Totally agree with this posts and the points you made. There is no excuse for rape, and we should not keep silent.

  6. Thank you for this! You have expressed exactly what I think and feel about this subject. I am happy to see that others like you share the same sentiment. We, all together must continue to be united and strong on this front because it will not go away otherwise.