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Sunday, October 25, 2020

Rape of children: debunking the myths and shifting the narratives

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Mark Twain has advised us to concentrate on the future because that is where we are going to spend the rest of our lives. He is right! We must focus on the future if we are to improve it. Unfortunately, and paradoxically, the future is not what it used to be. It has come too early, too unexpectedly. We seem unprepared for it, thus facing us into the dilemma of how to deal with it. 

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Looking into the crystal ball, it does not take a concerned adult to predict that rape of children is a growing problem in our country. The chilling stories we read on our newspapers are pointers to that fact. Everywhere, it is the classic case of the fence eating up the very crops it has been erected to protect. No child is safe anywhere because the marauding rapists wait at the street corner and at the desolate and quiet place. They lurk in the school and home, hubs where children expect to be safe and protected. The snake hisses where the pigeons play. 

 

A common argument prigs and puritans shout from the roof top is that men and boys rape because of the way women and girls ‘dress’. They moralise and cast aspersion on the victim’s character. They blame, judge and sentence them. The victims are tainted with the brush of Eve as the eternal seductress or temptress, thus finding excuses for rapists. 

 

Unfortunately, the rape victims we read on the newspaper are often in the age range of 9 months and 16 years.  It beats the imagination how the ‘dress code’ of a baby or a 12 year old girl can tempt an adult neighbour, a teacher, a watchman or a father to rape. Simply put, rape is an expression of violence. Nothing more! It is not a spontaneous action or occasioned by the way a person is dressed. It is always carefully planned- from having the motivation to rape, to overcoming the internal and external inhibitors as well as the victim’s resistance. Rapists “prime” their victims over time through a process known as grooming which enables them secure the cooperation of the victim and reduce the risk of discovery or disclosure. This process ensures both the child’s silence and the family’s inaction or disbelief should the child divulge information pertaining to the abuse. 

 

The diatribe  that rape is always invited or welcomed by the victim and that nothing untoward happens to a person unless he or she does something to deserve it is a mere subterfuge. The rape victim’s reluctance to disclose what has happened to her results in large part from this tendency to blame herself, a reluctance born out of a legitimate fear that disclosure would lead to criticism and harsh judgment from others. 

 

I have heard the argument, a rather common refrain, that one cannot rape a lady or woman against her will or without her consent. This argument is, even on face value, pathetic. Certainly to be ‘willing’ or to ‘consent’ is much more than mere nodding of the head or simple uttering of a ‘yes’. “Consent’ requires absence of force or coercion, freedom to comfortably say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and willingness to accept a ‘no’ as definitive. Consent is not possible when there is unequal power between the two parties. It requires that the person understands, in full, the ramifications of his or her ‘yes’. A social smile from a baby does not mean consent. An inability to physically resist a sexual advance or assault in the face of a threat does not mean consent.  

 

Rapists use threats, bribery, manipulation, coercion or force to commit these crimes as well as make the woman or child ‘silent’. They are often also known to the victim, or the victim’s family. Certainly consent will be totally irrelevant in a situation where fear reigns supreme, where the woman’s or girl’s ability to think rationally or to act effectively is destroyed.

 

Another stereotype worth debunking is that people who rape are either womanisers or people ‘sick in the head’. The ‘mad sex fiend image’ has taken such a firm hold in our concept of a rapist that we find it more difficult to accept that ‘normal’, ‘religious’, ‘gentle’ and ‘caring’ persons will rape. Yet, our ‘exceptions’ are mostly those who rape, abusing the trust, power and authority they have over their victims.  The stereotype of a knife-wielding stranger, attacking a young, innocent virgin, in a dark street corner at night time rarely applies. Contrary to the common myth, men who rape do not generally have abnormal sex hormones or excessive sexual libido. Research that looked into the backgrounds and characteristics of sex offenders has found that the majority of incarcerated sex offenders have wives or sexual partners.

 

Considering that rapists prey on the most vulnerable of society, our children, we must change the narratives and perceptions about rape and victims of rape. These merely strengthen and validate the stereotype and greatly minimise the devastating effects of rape on the victim. 

 

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. Unlike in a housebreaking, where the goal is access to the woman’s or girl’s possessions, in rape, it is the woman or girl herself who is defiled and, unlike in housebreaking, the defiled goods cannot simply be discarded and forgotten. 

 

We need to see and understand rape as violence, an abuse of power and a betrayal of trust. We must interrogate and lay bare the falsity and emptiness of thoughts and arguments held by defenders of perpetrators of rape and other sexual abuse. We must not accept that a girl’s or woman’s morality is more important than the crime committed against her. We must, as a society, stop finding excuses for rapists or minimising the effects of rape on the victim. We must let people not only take responsibility for their actions but also face the full force and fury of the law. 

 

We must all have the courage of our conviction to condemn and denounce perpetrators and identify more with the victim. This is the most honourable thing to do. That is what victims, ours or theirs, demand from us. We have no other choice. Dante has warned us that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of moral crisis maintain their neutrality. Men and women of good will certainly side with the victim. 

 

Like General Wellington to his soldiers at the battle of Waterloo, it should be ‘forward all over the line’ if we are to succeed in our fight rapists, 

 

Njundu Drammeh is the national coordinator at Child Protection Alliance (CPA)

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