Rape is a horrendous act whose destructive effects can plague the survivor for the rest of their life. It is an experience that most survivors can never let go of, in part because it violates one to the core, but also because society tends to blame the survivor as though they invited this catastrophe upon themselves. Those who are violated – mostly women and girls – are unfortunately confronted with blame-shifting as society often believes one of three basic tenets of rape culture:
‘She asked for it’
‘She deserved it’
‘He was entitled to it’
A lot of survivors often express regret in reporting rape, as they are met with secondary victimisation at the hands of the criminal justice system as well as society. Oftentimes survivors are accused of lying and being insensitive for reporting rapists.
Day in, day out, women and girls are raped. Statistics reveal that at least one woman is raped every 90 minutes in Zimbabwe, yet society and the criminal justice system still do not take this atrocious act as seriously as they should. This attitude has left rape survivors out in the cold and many of them have opted to remain silent for fear of revictimisation. Rape survivors face multi-pronged suffering,. First, when they are raped they are already traumatised. Then, the ordeal they go through in pursuit of justice adds to their trauma.
In 2014, Chipo*, a 28 year old single mother, was raped by a colleague who followed her home after work. He threatened her and told her that he was connected to the Central Intelligence Organisation and could arrange for her disappearance if she reported the case. The following day, Chipo found the courage to tell a friend who urged her to write down the whole encounter and submit the document to management, which she did. While all this was happening, her rapist continued to threaten her, reminding her that if she said anything to anyone, she would disappear like all the other people he had made disappear. When she finally spoke to management, she was assisted in filing a police report. Unfortunately, she was unable to get PEP treatment to prevent HIV infection as the required 72 hour time period had already lapsed.Her co-workers called her a witch and a cruel woman who was not considering the impact this case would have on this man’s wife and children. Hurtful and misogynistic statements flew around the office with people saying things like
“how could she report the rape?”, “ it was just sex and after all, she was not a virgin” and “she is a single mother, no longer a virgin, so what is the fuss?”
They called her a liar who was being spiteful. No one seemed to care about what the experience had done to her; how she was feeling, the trauma and the implications of this experience such as the risk of contracting HIV and STIs, and the possibility of falling pregnant. As if this victimisation was not bad enough, the perpetrator’s relatives paid her numerous visits asking her to withdraw the case and offering to bribe her. When attempts to bribe Chipo failed, the rapist’s relatives approached her relatives who accepted their offer of US$3 500. They were ultimately paid US$2 000 and Chipo was now under insurmountable pressure from her friends, colleagues, relatives and the perpetrator’s relatives to withdraw the charges. Everyone made her feel like a “she devil” who was inconsiderate of her rapist’s responsibilities or well-being given that he was a family man and considering the horrible conditions in Zimbabwe’s prisons.
Eventually, Chipo was forced to give in to the pressure and withdrew the case. When I visited her, she simply said, ‘I could not stand the pressure, no one stood by me and I started thinking about the time this trial would cost me and I could not do it.’ My heart sank and when I asked her how it made her feel, she said, ‘I am terrified, I don’t know how I am going to live my life. I don’t know who to talk to that can ever understand what I am going through. Everyone just thinks I am a bad person for making the report. I wish I could just die but then again I think about my child and remind myself I have to be strong for him’.
One can only imagine what she has been through and what she continues to go through. Chipo’s story, and many others like it, should make us think deeply about how rape survivors get a raw deal from the criminal justice system, the health system and society at large. They are often left with nowhere to turn, as no one seems to really care about them. They become invisible and more focus and empathy is on the rapist who is perceived as having a run of bad luck. The victimisation faced by rape survivors seems to suggest that they have no right to seek justice against a man for taking what, according to misogynistic “logic”, all men are entitled to.
Should the matter go to trial, the criminal justice system treats survivors as suspects and not as victims and witnesses. They must give an account of how they had sex to the gallery in such a vivid and almost pornographic manner that exposes them and violates their privacy even further. The judicial process ends up being about how the defense can discredit the survivor. Justifications for the act are thrown left, right and centre as the survivors are blamed for wanting to ruin the lives of their rapists.
Both the judicial system and the society gangs up to dishonour the rape survivors who have dared to come out and speak out about this violation. This bullying seeks to silence them.
It is only when society and the justice system value the rights of women in general and rape survivors in particular, that survivors will heal and benefit from their journeys to access justice. If we are to truly have a just and equal society, rape must be acknowledged for the gross human rights violation that it is. In addition, this acknowledgement will ensure that rapists see their acts for what they are.
We must engender a culture in men of always seeking consent when wanting to engage in sex. Importantly, also, that when a person refuses to engage in sexual activity, that they must respect that decision and stand back.
Tariro is a lawyer, gender activist and feminist. A fitness fundi, in 2016, Tariro plans on running in the Two Oceans marathon in South Africa .