This is rape culture

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IOL  vavi may 27 INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS Cosatu secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi File photo: Dumisani Dube

In our response to Vavi and his accuser, we have shown that rape culture is interwoven into our society, says TO Molefe.

Cape Town - At this point it does not matter whether Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi’s accuser ever files charges of rape with the police. It doesn’t even matter if she is lying, as some have claimed. Equally irrelevant now is whether she was a pawn in a political plot and if she and her husband tried to blackmail Vavi.

This sordid mess has become about much more than what did or didn’t happen before, after and on January 25 at Cosatu’s headquarters in Johannesburg when a trade union leader allegedly entered the office of a subordinate and locked the door behind him.

In our aggregate response to her accusations against a man we’ve come to admire, we have shown that rape culture is interwoven into how our society thinks and behaves.

From the moment the story hit the pages of the weekend newspapers, her claim was treated with doubt and judgement. Pronouncements were made about how and why her actions discredited her claims of sexual harassment and rape, yet no scrutiny was directed at the actions of Vavi and how and why they discredit his claim that he did not sexually harass or rape her.

This is the same gauntlet of societal doubt that many other survivors of rape and other forms of sexual abuse who choose to come forward are put through. This is part of why heartbreakingly few ever come forward.

This is rape culture and it holds that the credibility of alleged rapists is theirs to lose while that of alleged victims is theirs to prove.

Rape culture was seen when Cosatu – which, as the employer of the accuser and accused, should have been neutral – released statements to the media where the accused defends himself and names his accuser. Rape culture is Cosatu, its affiliates and alliance partners seeing nothing wrong with this.

Rape culture is journalists reporting that the withdrawal of a grievance of sexual harassment means the accused has been cleared of rape charges.

Rape culture is political analysts, trade union leaders and others playing up the claim of a political conspiracy while downplaying the unequal power relations that exist between boss and subordinate.

Rape culture is civil society not seizing this moment to speak out about safer sex, and bosses who use their positions to take advantage of subordinates, just because they enjoy a cosy working relationship with the boss who had unprotected sex at the office with a junior staffer.

Rape culture is refusing to accept the litany of substantive reasons why only an estimated one in nine incidents of rape are ever reported to the police, let alone six months after the fact under a cloud of suspicion. Rape culture has it that only a tiny fraction of reported cases survive prosecutorial discretion and even fewer end in a conviction.

As a participant in rape culture, you criticise anybody who says “you don’t ask for taxi money from somebody who raped you”, if the accused is someone you loathe, but you are free to say “you don’t blackmail somebody who raped you” when the accused is someone you admire.

Rape culture says all “genuine” rape survivors behave like this and any deviation is proof that it was not “legitimate rape”.

Rape culture is the thinking and behaviour of people circulating a photo on social media of the accused and accuser side by side with the question: Do you blame him? What they’re saying is that it’s her fault that she was so beautiful and that he would have been less of a man if he hadn’t made a move on her.

Rape culture says that’s just the way men are. They’re always horny and looking to score.

Rape culture is in the inane and repetitive cycle of debates about whether rape jokes are funny, when they so obviously are not.

Rape culture is reserving one day in August, 16 days in December – and moments when someone we don’t like is the accused – to pay lip service to the devastating effects of male supremacism in our society.

Fourteen men break into a woman’s shack in Mahala Park in the Free State. They assault her and drag her to a nearby ditch. Six of them gang-rape her. They stab her cousin with a garden spade and try to rape her too, but her screams alert neighbours who scare off the attackers. This barely made a splash in the news. It simply wasn’t new and fresh enough to arrest our attention.

Rape culture is you and me accepting that this is normal.

* Molefe is a Cape Town-based freelance writer.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

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