By Njundu Drammeh
The testimony of the witness who appeared before the TRRC Monday was heart-wrenching, sorrowful and absolutely blood-cudling. Her experiences at the hands of the once most powerful man in The Gambia showed the true character of the State then- lascivious, sexually exploitative, devoid of conscience, heartless, brutish, ghoulish, callous, etc. It showed how men with power and authority preyed on young, vulnerable, unsuspecting ladies, and they still do. Above all, it laid bare one truth- that we men regard our ladies as sexual objects, to be used and misused at will.
We can disbelieve witnesses who share their stories or testimonies of sexual exploitation; that is our choice. But to make disparaging, uncalled-for remarks about their persons and personalities, or cast aspersion, muckrake, impeach the character of the victim, these are infra dig and show the type of person you are. To be a victim of rape, or any other form of sexual abuse or exploitation, is the most harrowing experience one can talk about; and so if a person has summoned all the courage in the world to share that experience, she (or he) needs support, a listening and caring ear and a warmth and protecting space to share her story.
See, rape does not always have to involve physical, brute force; often time it is about coercion, manipulation, intimidation, bribery, black mailing, fear of the consequences of refusal, etc. Most girls and women who are raped find themselves unable to defend themselves in any way. This does not make them willing accomplices, as many find themselves labeled.
The view that it is impossible to rape a woman (to have carnal knowledge of her) against her will or wishes is patently untrue when one considers the implication of the word ‘consent’. For those of us who think ‘consent’ is a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’, please ponder over this definition by Ray and Fay:
“Consent is based on choice
Consent is active, not passive
Consent is only possible when there is equal power
Forcing someone to give in is not consent
Going along with something because of wanting to fit in with the group is not consent….
If you cannot say “no” comfortably then “yes” has no meaning.
If you are unwilling to accept a “no” then “yes” has no meaning.
In fact, consent becomes totally irrelevant when the element of fear is introduced into the situation, destroying the woman or girl’s ability to think rationally or to act effectively. Fear of being killed or mutilated reduces most victims to a state of complete helplessness and submission.
Unless we understand the role of power (and status, authority, age physical power differentials) in the relationship between abuser and victim, we would continue to blame victims for what they suffer. Unless we understand the use of grooming in the abuse cycle, we would not be able to appreciate how the rapist or abuser often makes the victim blame herself for the abuse, through her misplaced trust and lack of judgment. And Jammeh used both to make his victims give in, feel guilty that they are to blame for the abuse or simply resign to their fate.
While I abhor to my marrow, this naked, unashamed sexual exploitation by Jammeh, truth is that there are many Jammehs in our society, men who are using their power, position, authority, influence, money, title, trust to sexually abuse and exploit our young girls and ladies. That head of the institution or human resource manager who insists on s*x before hiring or even interviewing. That friend you know who passes lewd remarks and innuendoes against women and ladies. They too are as horrible and unconscionable. And the bystanders who see no evil, hear no evil and talk no evil…..They are as culpable….
Rape is unlike other criminal offences. In house breaking, for instance, the goal is access to the woman’s or girl’s possessions. However, in rape, it is the woman or girl herself who is defiled. After arson, the victim can ‘reassemble’ his life and start all over again. However, in rape, what is defiled cannot be restored or forgotten. Rape is an absolute and total violation, not just of the woman’s or girl’s psychological boundaries, but her actual most intimate physical boundaries.
Society must understand that rape is less as the behaviour of deviant and more an extreme extension of how we see and value women, what premium we place on masculinity and how the community tolerates violence. We must begin to see rape less as an aberration and more as an abuse of power and a betrayal of trust. We must begin to regard rape as a rape and not any issue of morality