Sharing the Rape Series - Part 2
We continue our Rape Series by delving into how our ideas about women, men and sexuality plays a role in our responses to rape, and what we even judge to be rape. How do culture and religion play a role in our attitudes towards rape?
When Kojo was a young boy, he was taught the lessons of girls and wooing. Comments he heard in his father's compound among the male occupants of the house ranged from the jovial "when a girl says no, what she really means is yes," to the more serious "such rubbish! How can a woman tell her husband no? How can a woman say no to anything I, a man, ask her, especially when I have paid so much money to marry her? Sex is my right as a husband. If she won't give it, then you just have to take it by force!" Kojo did not grow up to rape women, but he certainly had formed an idea about women, men, ownership and sex.
When Abigail was only a child she was taught the lessons of boys and dominance. The comments she heard ranged from "a man is the head of the house. You must not deny him anything. It is the reason he has paid a bride price. You now belong to him." to "it is a woman's job to please her husband in any way she can," "you don't wash your dirty linen in public. What happens in private should stay in public." "Look at that girl and what she is wearing. If she is to be raped, she will only have herself to blame." Abigail grew up to fear sex as an act of violence and punishment. It was a dirty thing, something to be ashamed of, something to dread, and something to be done out of a sense of obligation to the one who had paid the price.
Silence is a very prevalent trait in many African societies, especially when it comes to matters involving sex. Only recently is sex being discussed more openly in public forums and throughout the media. Thanks to the internet and early exposure, children are learning to dispel the myths surrounding sex before they are even old enough to put their curiosities to the test. May it be noted that the culture of silence regarding rape is not solely an African trait, it is a global one. Women everywhere, for one reason or another, would rather suffer in silence than to let it out publicly that she has been a victim of rape. A look into various cultures may explain why this is the case.
In July 2009, a young girl became a victim of rape in broad daylight in the city of Kumasi in Ghana. The fact that her rapist was bold enough to drag his victim into a nearby bar and proceed to mount her on top of him as he sat in callous contempt of womanhood is very surprising because until then, men at least tried to hide the act. The fact that this poor girl was raped in the full glare of those who gathered to watch the act, tells you how low a society can fall when it comes to the issue of rape. The fact that the rapist in this case was eventually apprehended by the male proprietor of the bar and held until police arrived tells of the fact that the whole society has not gone crazy. There are at least a few decent people who can discern between right and wrong. And the fact that the rapist eventually got 55 years in prison with hard labor is confirmation of the fact that the laws do work when such cases are reported to the authorities. The outpouring of rage and disgust over this incident was quite encouraging.
In early October 2005, on a crowded stage on the campus of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, a well-known female entertainer was reportedly stripped naked on stage. According to various news reports, the stripping was an attempt to publicly humiliate the entertainer for being “inappropriately” dressed. She was said to be wearing a really short skirt. In the chaos that ensured, the entertainer reports her breasts being fondled and some of the students touching her private parts. In an interview issued to Ghanaweb on October 28, 2005, the female entertainer stated that the events of that early October day will “forever remain etched in her mind.” Public outcry over the incident did not go very far as both men and women blamed the entertainer for her poor sense of fashion and justified her treatment saying that she “asked for it” when she went on stage wearing an outfit that showed her panties while she was gyrating on the dance floor.
And yet the most outrageous cultural response to rape that I have heard so far happened right here in the United States, among the black community in a small town in Texas called Cleveland. There, an 11 year-old girl was gang raped by as many as 18 men. The rape is not even as outrageous as the responses of many in the small town who accuse the victim of dressing older than her age, applying makeup and putting forth a promiscuous attitude. Some women raged against the fact that the lives of the young men in question were being disrupted because of the rape.
Societies’ views of proper decorum for good girls versus bad girls come into play most of the time. In her memoir “Lucky,” Alice Siebold gives an inside look into the trauma she experienced as a rape victim. The doubts and questions surrounding her rape came from all over, her family, friends and the courts. Alice was a virgin the day she was raped on her college campus. Her only crime was walking a dark path alone after midnight, a path she had walked many nights without the slightest thought for her safety. What is most notable in her court trial is the way she tried to present herself to the jury during her day of questioning. She walked into court dressed like a 90 year old grandmother – for that is what is deemed proper and modest of good girls, and even more so for one who claimed to be a virgin the night she was raped.
Somehow, societies have a way of blaming the victims for their rape more than they have the ability to place blame where it actually belongs. There is always that question of whether the woman asked for it or even deserved it depending on her actions, how she was dressed, or where she was when she was raped. According to our survey responses, many of which came from women, men are sometimes justified in raping a woman. It is interesting to note that while most of these respondents believed that all rape was a crime, they had still, on occasion, blamed a woman for being raped and stood on the side of the perpetrator for the very reasons listed above – decorum, dress, attitude, geographical location etc.
One respondent said she would blame a woman for being raped if the woman was “acting seductively in the presence of her rapist, or if she was drunk when she invited her rapist up to her home and later changed her mind and said “no.” Unfavorable fashion statements – short skirts, exposed upper bosoms – lack of good judgment, and carelessness were some of the reasons under which some said a victim was to blame. If societies were a little more compassionate and understanding towards rape victims and a lot harsher on perpetrators, the act of rape would not be so prevalent in many societies, and we wouldn’t even be talking about it. Unfortunately, this is not the case in many societies and so we need to talk about it. One respondent summed it up beautifully, and I would like to end this second part by quoting her: “The most difficult part of being a victim of rape is that the victim almost always feels they did something to deserve the attack on them. The fear of being called a liar or that they somehow did something to be attacked forces most people to be quiet.”
Part 3 of this series will examine the effects of rape on its victims and why it is never okay for anyone to suffer rape no matter the circumstances.
This feature can also be read at www.afrikangoddess.com.