I am prepared to be raped.
As a South African woman, I have a 1 in 3 chance of being raped.
I am mentally and practically prepared to be raped.
From as far back as I can remember, my mother has taught me what to do if ever I was to be raped or sexually assaulted. Honestly, I can remember learning these procedures before I even started primary school. My mother received criticism for talking to me about rape from such an early age and her response was always “how young is too young?“.
“Do not shower or wash yourself,” my mom would say, “tell a trusted adult, go to a hospital or the police station as soon as possible“. This procedure has been repeated to me so many times that I have almost been desensitized to the idea of rape.
“How young is too young?”
A recent study done on school girls showed that every 3 out of 4 female students admitted to having been sexually assaulted.
Growing up, learning about sexual health, sexual assault and other issues that young girls have do deal with was completely normal. I always found it strange when other children didn’t know what menstruation was and the concept of the “birds and the bees” always confused me. I am so appreciative now of the relationship I have with my parents and I am thankful for the trust and respect they gave me from such an early age.
The recent rape trial of a Stanford student, however, has got me thinking more deeply about rape in South Africa.
The Elephant In The Room
Where I grew up, in White River, a rural town predominantly occupied by white South African farmers, rape was a far off and disturbingly casual concept that we briefly dealt with in my private school’s Life Orientation class.
To my knowledge, none of my friends had ever been sexually assaulted, as rape was simply not something we had to worry about. While I went through school, almost blissfully unaware, girls my own age were going through the trauma of rape, and to think that my biggest concern was my bi-annual maths exam.
My sheltered experience at school left me so unprepared for the realities of life outside my small town.
Although rape was not a big concern of mine growing up, it has increasingly become one in the years since I have left school. Each time I walk alone to buy groceries, each time I walk from the train station to my residence alone, each time some man cat calls me on the street. Each time I prepare myself for the possibility that today might be the day that I have to follow the ingrained procedure “Do not shower or wash yourself, tell a trusted adult, go to a hospital or the police station as soon as possible”.
In my mind, whenever I picture a rapist, I am hit by the shocking realization that I have ingrained racial prejudices.
I am someone who lives, breathes and teaches non discrimination and acceptance, and so for me these realizations about myself are always hard to accept. This reminds me of something else my mother told me growing up:
“Your rapist, more often than not, will be someone you know. It could be your uncle, one of your dad’s friends, a teacher, someone you trust, someone you would never suspect”.
This chilling thought leads me to the realization that rape is not a characteristic of a certain race, culture, social class or religion. Anyone can be a rapist and anyone can be a victim.
More Than Numbers
It is estimated that only 1 in 5 women who are raped in South Africa come forward and report the assault. There are many reasons why, but for one: the treatment of rape victims at most police stations and public hospitals is absolutely appalling. Researchers from the Medical Research Council did a study about how rape victims are dealt with at police stations, and some of the researchers were so traumatized by what they witnessed that they had to go for counselling afterwards.
50% of court cases in South Africa are about charges of rape. Why are our jails not filled with rapists? Why are there STILL rapists on the streets – because only 4,5% of rape cases in our courts turn into convictions.
1 in 3 South African women will be raped in their lifetime.
1 in 3 women.
Not to mention the number of young boys and men, 1 in 10, who are also victims of sexual assault. 75% of rape in South Africa is gang rape, so for all the women and men raped, as disgusting and unacceptable a number as it is, there are even more incidents that go unaccounted for! South Africa officially has the highest rate of rape in the world.
Misplaced Anger, or Justified Frustration?
One has to ask, where is the outrage? Are we so used to the idea of rape that we ignore it? Are we so used to the precautions we take against rape that we don’t even realize that is what they are? Girls always going to the bathroom together, not walking alone on the streets, your taser or pepper spray a permanent item in your handbag, your car keys poised as a weapon when walking to your car? Acts so common that it took me a while to even recognise their purpose.
Seriously though, WHERE IS THE OUTRAGE?!
Why is this not one of our top priorities? Aside from the handful of brave Rhodes students, where are the protesters, the #rapemustfall campaign? Why is there not protests on every campus? Where are the policy changes, the programs working to prevent rape, the trained medical professionals to deal with rape?
Do we ignore the fact that South Africa is the rape capital of the world? Is rape so common that we no longer care?
No, I don’t believe that to be true.
A women getting raped is not news worthy in South Africa, not anymore and not unless it is a particularly gruesome, sensational attack that will make for good news ratings. If the statistics are to be believed, a woman is raped every 4 minutes in South Africa, but when was the last time you heard about a woman being raped? If every rape of a woman had to be reported, I am sure that there would be a national outcry.
What can we do? How can we decrease the rate of sexual assault and protect our brothers and sisters?
The Way Forward
Instead of directing our (completely justified) anger onto Brock Turner, the Stanford student accused of rape, let us rather direct our anger closer to home.
Let our anger be the fuel to the fire we need to help rape victims in South Africa. Let us bring the rapists to justice, let us show the same support for South African rape victims as we do the victim of Brock Turner; let us launch campaigns against South African judges who offer lenient sentences to rapists. Let us grow a generation of men who stand against rape, let us create positive role models and examples to young South African boys, let us nip the problem of rape in the bud by going to the source: domestic violence in South Africa.
Let us stand up for our women and destroy this rape culture!
Thank you to all the victims who have the courage to come forward. Thank you to the police men and women and the medical staff who treat rape with the tenderness and seriousness it deserves. Thank you to the everyday heroes who report crimes of rape and sexual assault. Thank you to the people who see rape as the unacceptable crime it is and would never rape another human being.
Although I am prepared procedurally to be raped, I ask myself, can anyone ever really be ready?
I sincerely hope that myself, and all those I know, never ever have to find out.
Keep up with Courtney on her blog, The Activist
- How rape became South Africa’s enduring nightmare, The Guardian
- White South African judge sparks outrage after claiming ‘rape is black culture’ in online rant, Telegraph UK
- How universities can begin to tackle rape culture, Mail & Guardian
- These South African college students are staging huge protests against rape culture, Fusion
- Rhodes students protest half naked against rape, Dispatch Live
- Yes, Men Get Raped Too, And Mostly Suffer In Silence., The Logical Indian
Featured Image: Dying Regime