The recent spate of stories about violence against women and children is shocking, but we as South Africans are not as shocked as we should be, writes Kathleen Dey.
Cape Town – The recent spate of stories about violence against women and children in the media is shocking – or it should be. But in a country where rape culture underpins our gender relations and where violence of this kind is almost a norm because we see it on a daily basis perhaps we are not as shocked as we should be.
And because we are not as shocked as we should be perhaps we are not reacting as we should.
Firstly to clarify what we mean by rape culture when we talk about this at the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust. The core of the problem of violence and crime in South Africa is a culture of violence, which needs to be seen and understood in the context of our extremely violent past.
A culture of violence means: the majority of children and young people in our country grow up in an environment in which violence is part and parcel of daily life.
Violence within families, between parents, and parents being violent towards their children, violence at school and on the street, on TV and other media, video games glorifying violence, violence as a means to deal with one´s feeling of inferiority or as a means to create a feeling of belonging, for instance to a criminal gang, violence of men against girls and women as a signal of masculine identity and power – and violence that has been considered by people supporting apartheid, and people fighting against it, as a legitimate means to fight for one's political purposes over decades. In a culture of violence, violence is seen as a normal and inevitable part of daily life.
This can and needs to be changed, step by step.
The everyday violence of men against women, those that identify as women or that have women’s bodies often takes a sexual form. By everyday violence we mean the violence that permeates the environment to the point that it can go unnoticed.
How do we change this?
When we see extreme acts of violence reported in the media we know that this is the tip of the iceberg and that unreported rape and violence against women and children is at much higher levels that just these isolated cases. It is clear that this culture of violence is eroding the social contract that binds us as human being to behave with decency towards one another.
The desired social contract is one where all people will be safe and live in freedom because they all have the same amount of rights and take the same amount of responsibility and if they do not the state imposes duties on all and protects the rights of all.
This clearly is not happening in South Africa at this time.
Instead of calling people to behave with decency towards one another and showing them the steps towards building a culture of consent it is important first to ensure that the state takes its own duties seriously.
That is why the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign is calling on the government to continue to roll out specialist sexual offences courts across South Africa as promised and not to dilute this model by amending laws to allow for hybrid courts or adopting a model that has fewer services and facilities to support rape survivors when they testify in court.
When we see services being curtailed, laws being diluted and fewer resources being allocated to the implementation of plans then we know that we are not shocked enough by the horror of Karabo Mokoena, Courtney Pieters, Lerato Moloi, Nombuyiselo, the unnamed rape survivor at the University of the Western Cape and countless unnamed others.
* Kathleen Dey is director of the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust. Connect on www.rapecrisis.org.za and follow our Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign to lobby the South African government to roll out specialised sexual offences courts.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.