The rape and murder of Anene Booysen has brought the horrific levels of violence against women in South Africa to the forefront of discussion again.
Again, the statistics are splashed on the front pages of the newspapers. Again, we are shocked. Politicians spin the usual empty promises and citizens protest.
But the dust settles, nothing changes and the violence and rape continue.
This is unacceptable.
Every South African needs to examine their role in the perpetuation of rape, for we are all responsible.
As you read this, you are horrified. You say: “What nonsense! I abhor rape.” But despite your protestations, many of you are part of the problem.
The root cause of rape lies not within the law or the inefficiencies of our criminal justice system. It doesn’t lie with the thousands of disenchanted and disempowered young people who roam our streets.
It lies in people’s attitudes, across all cultures and classes, when they cling to outdated, harmful myths and stereotypes that perpetuate rape and violence.
Myths lead people to blame women for rape. People say “She was not really raped” or “She was asking to be raped”.
Culpability is deflected from the rapist and unjust ammunition is given to defence lawyers.
Myths stigmatise survivors who subsequently feel too ashamed to report the rape. Most rapists walk among us, unpunished and ready to re-offend. The survivor’s guilt and shame is increased, she becomes isolated and her recovery is sabotaged.
These are some of the myths:
All these myths blame the victim and exonerate “normal” men in normal situations.
This is why the words of the well-meaning Western Cape MEC Albert Fritz are so damaging: “We want to call on our young men and women to please ensure they don’t get into situations at 3am in the morning where they place themselves in danger” and “Please ensure that you are safe and go with people you can trust, who won’t hurt you”.
Immediate and drastic action is needed to change the status quo.
The government must employ experts to educate pupils on gender equality issues, in their mother tongue, through all 12 grades of school as part of weekly life orientation classes.
Outdated tribal and religious practices that degrade and objectify women must be outlawed.
Politicians, policemen, teachers and clergymen must serve as positive role models for young men and women. If they fail, they must be replaced.
No one must be above the law: not pop stars, priests or presidents.
Religious leaders need to be more vocal and confront rape and violence against women from the pulpit.
Teachings of the church must elevate the status of women within marriage and the institution itself must be portrayed as a loving partnership where men and women play differing but equal roles.
Outreach programmes can take this message into communities.
The church must be a safe place for women to disclose violent partners and with the women’s permission, elders must intervene and name and shame those who do not reform.
Collectively, parents, teachers and leaders must teach our sons and daughters from childhood that a woman is never a man’s possession, he may never own or control her; that a woman’s body is sacrosanct and that she alone may give a man permission to touch her; and that emotional, verbal or physical violence towards a woman is forbidden.
We must point out unacceptable behaviour when we see it – in real life, in movies and on television.
We must teach children the skills to deal appropriately with emotional upheaval and anger. We must help them when they fail.
The government must ensure that the criminal justice system provides a welcoming environment for women to report rape and conviction rates must increase.
Always speak out socially against presumptions based on myths.
The government must generously fund organisations that assist women and promote gender equality.
Don’t believe it can’t happen to you, to your mother, your wife, your sister or your daughter. It can.