a delayed thought...sexual violence in south africa

BY THE time I was in matric, I had three friends who were rape survivors. All three had been raped by people they knew and I never pressed them about whether they had pressed charges or not.
The reality is that many women are not raped by strangers waiting in dark alleyways ready to pounce on their vulnerability. Women are sexually assaulted and raped by people they know: partners, cousins, colleagues. This is not surprising considering the rape statistics in South Africa claim that a woman is raped every 17 seconds.
There are certain places I know I should not go to after dark; I have to be even more careful if I am out drinking with friends because I am aware that in South Africa, a woman’s body is not her own. Not only is my movement curtailed as a woman, but my body can be used as provocation for a violent crime.
As a student at a relatively safe university campus, one is still not 100 percent secure. There have been instances of rape and sexual violence. Some have been reported and many probably not.
Trying to raise concern about the silence around sexual violence, I recently participated in the “1 in 9 Campaign” which seeks to raise awareness not only about the shocking rape statistics, but about the State’s silence in dealing with many cases.
Research conducted by the Medical Research Council in 2005 focused on the reporting and non-reporting of rape survivors, revealing that only one in nine survivors reported the crime to the police.
The 1 in 9 campaign (based on this one in nine statistic) encourages women and men to speak up against this physical violation and stand in solidarity with women who have been silenced by sexual violence for any reason.
This year over 1000 students took part in the campaign, wearing purple T-shirts and taping their mouths shut to symbolise the silence that prevails, because sadly, South Africa is still one of the most violent societies for women to live in.
Despite this the national discourse and political agenda around issues affecting women remains very worrying.
Who can forget ANC Youth League leader, Julius Malema, publicly stating that the woman who accused President Jacob Zuma of rape had a “nice time” with him.
Recently in KwaThema township (Gauteng) a 24 year old lesbian, Noxolo Nogwaza, was raped and brutally murdered; another statistic of the corrective rape scourge that takes place in South Africa, prominently since 2006, when the case of corrective rape against a lesbian, Zoliswa Nkonyana, was reported.
When there is no outcry about such actions or comments from our country’s leaders, violence against women is not condemned, but entrenched. Chauvinism is held aloft and the national crisis of violence against women is not even seen to be an issue of national importance.
The judicial system too, has also failed women as many cases are delayed in court for various reasons. A rape case can be postponed up to 32 times without any explanation in our courts.
The responsibility needs to shift from rape and any kind of sexual violence being a woman’s issue, one in which we are expected to bare sole responsibility for what we wear and what time we are in public in certain areas.
Rape and sexual abuse need’s to be everybody’s issue.
We need to all agree that men should no longer be demonised as violent people who cannot control their urges and women should not be treated as second class citizens where violence against them in any form is treated with indifference.

If women in this country are never able to fully claim their freedom of movement, our reality is that we are not yet free – a shame given our Constitution that recognises the dignity of every person. It is a shame that several years after I matriculated, I no longer have three friends who are rape survivors — but many more.
[first appeared in the Daily Dispatch, 7 May 2011]

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