Horrors of rape continue on

Tshepiso Babusi

The thing about seeing someone display courage regarding something you have battled with yourself is that, it gives you the platform to do the same. That is what is happening now.

Zinedine Karabo Gioia went public on her date rape ordeal. And, just so we’re on the same page, date rape is when a person on a date has sexual intercourse with their partner without their consent. For instance, a boyfriend. Having gone public, a petition seeking justice for Zinedine flooded social media and consequently, people started sharing similar experiences. Horrid experiences that revealed not only the fact that people carry traumas, but also how flawed the system can be.

Throwing our weight behind women who have been raped is a knee jerk reaction for most of us. It was evident in the way the story developed. As is the norm, the public took their concerns to social media. Rape apologists sang their usual victim blaming mantras of “don’t drink”, “don’t go anywhere”, “hide yourselves”, or something along those lines. It was all very confusing.  Ordinarily, I would jump at the throats of rape apologists, but I’ve realised it deflects from the real issue and gives perpetrators leeway to keep lurking in the shadows while we argue semantics.

The penal code is crystal clear. Upon conviction, one is sentenced to a minimum term of 10 years’ imprisonment or to a maximum term of life imprisonment. No complaints there. However, the reality is that victims oftentimes opt not to report the crime at all. It becomes even more apparent if the perpetrator is someone they know, so it hardly gets to the level of a conviction, unfortunately.

In instances of victims that do report, it is a long and daunting process. They open a case, get examined, receive medical attention, are assigned a counsellor, and investigations commence. If the perpetrator is known, the state prosecutor takes over, and the process can take years until there is an actual hearing. A rape survivor who wishes to remain anonymous, explained to me that she dropped her case because she was tired of going to the police station every day to relive the ordeal over and over again. The parents of the perpetrator also begged that they please resolve the matter at home. “He was my friend.” She explained.

Another rape survivor whose sexual assault experiences date from as far back as when she was a child, chose not to reveal the name of the perpetrator who raped her to the police. She expressed to me that she cared about him and didn’t want to be the person that ruins his life. Reasons vary from person to person, but these stories give us an idea of the complexity of rape.

I reached out to Mr Maphisa Maphisa, a clinical psychologist, so he can help unpack this mountain of a crisis. He explained that we are all traumatized by rape one way or the other. Therefore everyone’s response, including those that are viewed as rape apologists, is coming from a place of hurt. He reasoned that when a group of hurt people try to articulate their pain, especially about something as traumatic as rape, it tends to turn ugly. Collectively drawing from those hurts to correct the situation is what will move us from where we are. Maphisa equated rape to a sudden disaster that elevates people to immediate action. As the response of the criminal justice is not as immediate, victims feel hopeless and failed by the system. This is why they drop cases. We sometimes struggle with seeing people as a whole and understanding that a good person can also be a bad person. Victims often see the sexual assault as one isolated event and may still believe that the perpetrator is a good person. Maphisa explained this as one of the major reasons why victims go as far as protecting the identity of the perpetrator.

Maphisa suggested a re-look at the way the entire criminal justice handles rape. “We can’t treat rape like any other crime because it isn’t. Even the line of questioning leads to secondary traumatization. The process needs to be made more robust and expedited”, he explained. From a psychological point of view, it is clear where the gaps are in terms of how we respond to the context of sexual assault. What we must also acknowledge, is that the problem is not the snail pace criminal justice in isolation. It is a combination of factors. It begins at home, when sexual assaults on children/minors are swept under the rug in an attempt to “protect” them. It is the adults who can’t take rejection and see it as an attack on whatever form of power they perceive themselves to have.

It is the perception we have on treating psychological issues.  I am convinced that if corrective measures focused on the aforementioned areas, we would see a real difference. We would be granting people the basic human decency they were deprived of. Perhaps the next expert opinion to explore is from a legal point of view, particularly the criminal law and human rights aspect. This is a national crisis after all, and we must remember that “Kgetsi ya tsie, e kgonwa ke go tshwaragannwa.”