Legalising rape in Zimbabwe
“More than 1,600 girls raped,” the words jumped at me from a newspaper article. What! Despite all the measures to curb this evil. I thought about the tough sentences, and tough they are: a cattle rustler gets 12 years whilst a rapist gets three years or community service. Message is clear: if you seek for Justice, it is better to be a cow rather than a raped girl.
Zimbabwe Republic Police reported that between January and June this year 1,628 girls reported having been raped. A rise of 5% from last year.
The sentences given to many rapists are a joke to the lives destroyed. It is easier to find a needle in a haystack than justice for a girl in Zimbabwe. Cultural and religious beliefs and low self-esteem render girls powerless. men are motivated by societal reactions to rape, seems it is more degrading to be raped than be the rapist. It should never be the victims’ fault. Rape is a culture which continues to deny the very EXISTENCE of women, a sign of our culture’s failings. But if a man is raped, the scenario changes.
In 2012 a man was raped. There was a public outcry from men for punishment for the women who committed the crime. The victim’s allegations were believed immediately. Politicians and religious leaders castigated the crime. Thousands of girls have been raped and never has such a reaction been seen. A girl faces trauma, disbelief and accusations so there is a strong silence on rape. Rape is a power game with patriarchal values, showing the useless power of abuser.
Alarming statistics from ZIMSTATS and UNICEF show that one in three girls has been sexually abused by the time they turn 18. 95% of the cases the victims know the criminal. According to Girl Child Network (GCN), of 4,000 known rape cases per year, only 500 result in a prosecution. A GCN research indicates that a man can rape 250 children before his crimes become public. Rape is the most underreported violent crime worldwide and 10 girls report rape everyday in Zimbabwe, as a similar number or more remain silent. 75% of cases are withdrawn to protect the perpetrators. Even when investigations prove someone guilty, the offenders are acquitted at the same time that victims wallow in shame, publicly condemned and stigmatised whilst physically nursing torn vaginas and ruptured uterus. Mostly, silence is the preferred option for the victims.
Unbelievably, parents marry off their daughters to the rapist, declaring the rape legal. The rapist will only be avoiding criminal charges. By paying a brideprice “rape”, becomes legal and is called “marriage”. A criminal walks away free with the added bonus of a “wife”.
“Girls never say ‘yes’, their ‘no’ means ‘yes’” states some offenders. I am a girl , I know the difference between ‘yes’ and ‘no’, and how to use them. 90% of abused girls resisted the rape whilst the perpetrators feel those girls’ protests did not sound convincing. What is it about the word NO that men cannot understand? In South Africa a rape is said to be committed every 26 seconds. It sadly means at some point every woman in the society will be raped.
as we fight the battle we must look into the bigger picture to stop sexual abuse of minors. Abuse has economical, political and physical connotations. It is about domination and victory, rich versus poor, corruption versus virtue. It is about a child trusting a village to raise her only to realise that the village does not respect her values. A cultural overhaul is needed to change the situation.
Rape perpetrators should be publicly declared, to give faces and names to the sexual offenders so rape becomes a public crime, openly spoken about.
Women parliamentarians need to take up the challenge by appealing for equality in the Justice system.
I am appealing for women the world over to speak out about abuse of girls in Zimbabwe and share strategies to engage stakeholders, while mapping a way forward on reducing the incidents of rape.
It’s equal treatment we deserve. Outrage before rape must be a unique voice, from men and women, on equal basis. Ignoring reality and not making rape a priority is a way of legalising it, in silence.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.